2023 AIA Gold Medal Awarded to Carol Ross Barney

The Board of Directors and the Strategic Council of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) are honoring Carol Ross Barney, FAIA, with the 2023 Gold Medal. 

The Gold Medal honors an individual whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture. 

Barney is being recognized for her pursuit of architecture that betters the daily life of all who interact with it through nearly five decades of work. Barney earned her Bachelor of Architecture and Master of Architecture degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, she enlisted in the U.S. Peace Corps and was deployed to Costa Rica where she worked for the fledgling Costa Rica National Park Service. After her stint in the Peace Corps and time at the architecture firm Holabird & Root, Barney founded her practice, Ross Barney Architects, in 1981 in her native Chicago. Two years later, she was a recipient of the Plym Traveling Fellowship from University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, an opportunity that would invigorate her work in the public realm for the rest of her career.

In 1997, Barney was tasked with finding hope in the face of overwhelming tragedy as the lead designer for the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The project marked the first time a woman architect had been selected to lead such a commission. The 185,000-square-foot building, completed in 2005, integrates the necessary security measures with respect for pedestrians and the surrounding city. Seemingly at odds with the 1995 bombing incident that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, Barney’s u-shaped design is a far cry from an impregnable fortress. 

For nearly two decades, Barney championed the movement to inject new life into the Chicago River. The resulting Chicago Riverwalk is a 1.25-mile stretch of civic space that stretches from Lake Michigan to several of the river’s confluences. The park references the repurposed infrastructure that defines it in an effort to create discrete rooms between the bridges that span the river. Featuring kayak tours, a wine bar, veterans memorial, and countless public programs, the project has brought positive energy to Chicago’s urban realm and stands as a model for cities rethinking their water resources. 

UTILIZING DERELICT INFRASTRUCTURE, THE CHICAGO RIVERWALK IS A ONE-AND-A-QUARTERMILE-LONG CIVIC SPACE BETWEEN LAKE MICHIGAN AND THE CONFLUENCE OF THE MAIN, NORTH, AND SOUTH BRANCHES OF THE CHICAGO RIVER. Photo: Kate Joyce Studios

While Barney’s philosophy is evident in her work, she has, for nearly 30 years, delivered it to a generation of architects as an adjunct professor at the Illinois Institute of Chicago. The topics of the studio courses Barney leads have been closely related to her practice, from water transportation to mixed use development that spurs a light manufacturing renaissance. Barney has also mentored countless talented architects in her studio, many of whom have built their own successful practices, become university architects, or discovered new paths through the values Barney instilled in them. 

An unrivaled architect for the people, Barney exudes design excellence, social responsibility, and generosity. Throughout all of her work, she has endeavored to make the world a better place, and, in doing so, made an indelible mark on the profession. Her pioneering approach and ethics are clear examples of the highest aspirations of architecture. 

Barney’s work has been celebrated with more than 200 national and international awards, including two COTE Top Ten Awards, the 2005 AIA Award for Public Architecture, and AIA Illinois Firm Award and Gold Medal. 

Learn more about Barney’s selection as the 2023 AIA Gold Medal recipient on AIA’s website