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At five, children officially go to school—so it was a natural for us to photograph our fifth Suite 16 class at an educational institution. But given the accomplishments of our talented design stars, we skipped the elementary level and cut straight to the top, shooting them at Illinois Institute of Technology, where the compelling architecture icons befit and serve as further inspiration for our design-oriented class. May you find them as intriguing and deserving as we do.

MAS Studio | mas-studio.com

WHY WE LOVE HIM

This Spanish-born architect and urban designer truly thinks outside the box. Gil, the founder of Chicago’s MAS Studio, has created an alternative to the traditional architecture firm. “Instead of having 100 people work for you in an office,” Gil prefers to “network with people around the world.” Although he oversees only one full-time employee at MAS, he collaborates with scores of other people from the architecture world and beyond on a variety of projects. Gil not only creates buildings, he also — with the help of his network of architects, graphic designers, photographers and others — publishes a quarterly design journal (MAS Context), conducts research, curates exhibitions, designs graphics and more. When “collaborating with people, they show you other perspectives,” he says. “They bring other aspects to the table that you may not have thought about before, and at the same time, you bring [another perspective] to them.”

WHAT HE HAS DONE

A lot. The seemingly tireless networker’s architectural portfolio includes everything from New York City bike racks to a mixed-use urban district in Barcelona. He collaboratively created the winning entry for the Architecture for Humanity Chicago street furniture competition, Cut. Join. Play. He’s also an adjunct assistant architecture professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. And in addition to publishing MAS Context, Gil also edited Shanghai Transforming (2008), an essay collection which examines the architecturally-evolving city. The Shanghai project, he says, “was the start of a lot. It showed me the power of collaboration.”

text by harlene ellin

James Charles Design | www.jamescharlesdesign.com

WHY WE LOVE HIM

Let’s face it. When you’re at the top of your game with thriving design practices in London and Los Angeles, branching out to Chicago isn’t a natural progression. But Charles is so high on the Windy City he’s opening up a third studio next month to service a growing client list and several major projects here (the location was about to be determined at press time). One, an edgy 4600 sq. ft. penthouse for a young web entrepreneur at 235 W. Van Buren--the latest sleek skyscraper from Perkins + Will’s award-winning design principal Ralph Johnson--is about to be filmed by HGTV’s House Hunters, making him the first designer ever covered twice (an episode last year featured the transformation of a Laurel Canyon cottage in Hollywood from rustic to sleek). And another will add a new chic rooftop deck to a tony downtown hotel. The man is a crowd-pleaser; proof is evident in a transitional 9000 sq. ft. Glencoe home he completed recently. It went on the market unexpectedly last year when the clients divorced, and sold in less than two weeks despite the abysmal real estate market.

WHAT HE HAS DONE

Charles got his start as a design apprentice at Roche Bobois in London in the early 1980s; by the end of the decade, he had star clients such as Tina Turner, Sean Connery, John Cleese and Simon LeBon and was opening up outposts for the company all over the U. S. In 1994, he founded his own bi-continental design practice, and took on a teaching post at the Interior Designers Institute in Newport Beach, California. In 2008, he was invited to join the design team for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which debuted in 2009. Media appearances and awards have stacked up over the years, including HGTV’s Designers’ Challenge, E! Entertainment and most recently a British Design Award for Olympoly, the official board game of the Olympics. He is also in the vanguard of spearheading democratic design, and recently founded DesignerAtHome.com, a site that makes professional interior design services available at a range of levels, depending on a client’s budget and time constraints.

text by lisa skolnik

Chicago Architecture Foundation | caf.architecture.org

WHY WE LOVE HER

The VP of Youth Education for the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Linsner passionately wants Chicago-area kids to develop an understanding of and a connection with the “built environments” that surround them. During her 11 year tenure with the CAF, she has spearheaded a number of inspiring hands-on programs for children, from tiny tots to high schoolers. (We’ll get to those in a minute.) “We help kids understand that everything they encounter is part of human choices and human decision making and they are part of it…. Not everybody is going to be an architect, but everybody is going to be a designer — whether it’s with a capital “D” or not,” says Linsner, who holds an M.A. in education. “It’s a way of being, no matter if you’re planning a meal, a neighborhood or a transportation system.” Linsner loves when her mind-expanding programs prompt kids “to start to pay attention to where they live, how it makes them feel and have them think about that.”

WHAT SHE HAS DONE

Working with her trusty teammates — Mike Norse, Jennifer Masengarb and Deb Rodak, Linsner’s group has developed and implemented an impressive array of youth education programs. Among these are family workshops where parents and their little ones build cool stuff out of simple materials. There are teen offerings such as studio days where students are taught by trained professionals such as architects and urban planners. There’s an new online program where high schoolers can post their designs and have architects, teachers and peers critique them. And of course there are a plethora of CAF-lead exploratory school group tours. Says Linsner: “We like to say if kids don’t have real Chicago dirt on their hands, then we haven’t done our job.”

text by harlene ellin

Anthony Inc. | www.anthonyinc.net

WHY WE LOVE HIM

In a tough environment for interior designers, Anthony Bellon has got his clients’ backs. The multitasking Bellon, a self-described “concierge or personal shopper” for designers, caters to high-end residential and hospitality professionals. Whether a designer is looking for a substitute for that perfect — but now discontinued — chair, trying to get back within a blown budget or attempting to fabricate a Barbie’s head vanity chair, the resourceful Bellon can help. Bellon also represents several boutique lines of furniture, fabric, lighting and more — which he loyally sells to the trade only. “I provide a level of service to [my clients] and their own clients,” he says, “so they feel exclusive and valued.”

WHAT HE HAS DONE

Bellon has been in the business of product procurement and project management for more than 15 years. He recently began selling some of his product lines through Muse in River North. In addition to working on some amazing residential and hospitality projects (Four Seasons Hotels, Hotel Sofitel), Bellon has forged tight bonds with his designer-clients, he says. “My clients are always excited to see me, because I make their lives easier.”

text by harlene ellin

Fleps Designs | www.flepsdesigns.com

WHY WE LOVE HER

It’s rare for a negative to be a positive, but the prefix ‘un’ is a plus where designer Julie Fleps is concerned. If un-decorator was a word, “that’s what I’d call myself. I listen to what my clients say, take stock of their style then pass it through my filtering system,” she explains. In fact, she relies on her shrewd instincts and innate artistry to forge artfully balanced and unexpectedly intriguing interiors for residential and commercial clients—which all are supremely different and enthrallingly undone. While many designers have a look, she rejects the concept; “every client is so individual and design is ephemeral. It means something different in every situation.” But Fleps finds one thing universal: training refines those filtering abilities. “It’s like athletes who do the same thing over and over. They build muscle memory. Mine is visual,” she explains.

WHAT SHE HAS DONE

Fleps describes her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as a “smorgasbord degree. I meant to study fashion but couldn’t commit and did it all, from painting and drawing to sculpture and photography,” she explains. Her career path has been equally expansive. She worked at a River North art gallery for a few years, then co-founded Wear in Good Health in 1986, a nationally distributed clothing line with home quarters and a boutique in Lincoln Park. Ten years later, when she and her partner both had young families, they closed the business and Fleps went on to work at Bedside Manor for eight years, consulting with private clients during off-hours. The consulting grew and in 2004, she opened a namesake firm with her husband, artist-turned-master carpenter, cabinetmaker and furniture designer Peter Fleps. They collaborate on residential and commercial projects, including, most recently, the interior design and build-out of the edgy Evanston boutique Chalk. “The way I see it, he builds the skeleton and I put on the pretty stuff,” she confides. Not surprisingly, understatement is another one of those words that starts with ‘un’.

text by lisa skolnik

South Chicago Art Center | www.happyartcenter.org

WHY WE LOVE HER

Yes, she realizes she can’t change the world. But that doesn’t stop Sarah Ward from trying to make an impact on the at-risk kids she has come to know and love through her position as executive director of the South Chicago Art Center. She understands that very few of the impoverished children she encounters via the center’s array of art programs will ever make it out of such blighted neighborhoods as South Chicago, Pullman, Bush, Englewood, Washington Park and Woodlawn. “The pull of the neighborhood poverty and the major problems outside of what I’m creating are too strong to overcome,” says Ward, who has run the center since it opened 10 years ago. “I’m just a realist. And it’s the reality of the ‘hood.” Still the center — with its onsite, satellite and Chicago Public School programs — reaches 1,700 kids per year. Not only do they learn art techniques, Ward says, but they also get to feel safe, respected and valued, which gives these children “a strong foundation to grow as human beings and individuals.”

WHAT SHE HAS DONE

Ward, who has a master’s degree in art therapy and is a licensed art therapist, was there when the center sponsored only two classes per week with just 18 students. Today, it offers a five-day-a-week free after-school visual arts program, where children can take classes in painting, drawing, Egyptian sculpture and more. The center brings arts programs to several Chicago Public Schools where art sadly has been removed from the curriculum. And it sponsors an urban farm where dedicated kids and community members work together planting and tending beautiful flowers and bountiful vegetable gardens. The center also takes children — many who have never left their own neighborhoods — on field trips to explore the city’s museums, galleries and other cultural offerings. And Ward founded an internship program for neighborhood teens, many of whom where once program participants themselves. Like many a teacher, Ward has found it rewarding to watch her students mature. But unlike a teacher, “I don’t just get a year with them and then watch them in the halls,” she says.“I get to have long-term relationships.

text by harlene ellin

Site Design Group |
www.site-design.com

WHY WE LOVE HIM

Is it possible to create a peaceful respite on a strip of land that used to be a railroad yard, wedged between still-operative tracks, an old working lift-bridge, busy thoroughfares and the Chicago River? In 1999, Wong, a visionary landscape architect, deftly worked around those urban intrusions to forge Ping Tong Memorial Park, a soothing, stunning and award-winning oasis in Chinatown. Flash-forward a decade, and he’s still creating seminal public spaces with two new dazzling and idyllic Chicago parks that opened in 2010--Mary Bartelme in the West Loop and Henry Palmisano in Bridgeport. Both also turned problematic plots of land into much-needed City assets, and earned accolades and awards—including Chicagoan of the Year in the design category from the Chicago Tribune. And all of these public spaces have become vital, essential and hard-working elements of their respective communities. Not bad for a guy who says humbly, “I just want to make high-quality public spaces that are useful, have longevity and are relevant to our times.”

WHAT HE HAS DONE

With a growing legacy of thriving community spaces under his proverbial belt, Wong has had a hand in transforming Chicago into a much better place for all. Ironically, his father—noted Modernist architect Y.C. Wong, who moved here from China to attend IIT and worked with Mies van der Rohe---“was disappointed when I decided to become a landscape architect. He thought it was a second-rate profession compared to his, and I could do better,” chuckles Wong. He says his inspiration to enter the field came when he read William Whyte’s trim tome, “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces” while still in high school, but we speculate that growing up in his father’s famed Hyde Park Atrium Houses (townhomes that wrapped around inner courtyards) had a hand in inspiring his professional path. Regardless, he has definitely shown the old man that public spaces are important urban catalysts and perhaps even more influential than the buildings they accompany.

text by lisa skolnik

Latent Design | www.latentdesign.net

WHY WE LOVE HER

By our reckoning, Katherine Darnstadt is working on nine projects—and every single one is an incredibly worthy cause. There’s a community center for girls in Roseland; office renovations for the American Lung Association and the Chicago Women’s Health Center; traveling produce markets in retrofitted CTA busses for Chicago’s food deserts; kid-friendly spaces for two deserving Chicago elementary schools and a primary school in an earthquake-devastated town in Haiti; a regional library in Tanzania; and more. Over half are volunteer projects through her work as co-director of Architecture for Humanity Chicago; the rest are under the aegis of her own firm, Latent Design, which sets aside 10 percent of its profits to subsidize pro bono and reduced fee non-profit work. But she’s also a founding member of the AIA Chicago’s Community Interface Committee, a networking forum devoted to public service work, and past co-chair of USGBC Chicago’s Emerging Professional Committee. And she’s a new mom to an eight-month-old son. With such energy and commitment, we wish we could clone her. The world might be quite a different place.

WHAT SHE HAS DONE

For an architect who has such a breadth of experience, accomplishments and contacts, Darnstadt is a stunningly young 29. She earned her B.Arch from IIT; spent three years at FitzGerald Associates Architects doing multi-unit residential and affordable housing; moved on to a small architecture and development firm for almost two years; and founded Latent Design in 2009, a year after being laid off when the recession hit. She used the break wisely to get credentialed, and by the time she went on her own at 27 she was licensed in Illinois and Wisconsin, LEED AP and a certified Registered Energy Professional [REP] for the City of Chicago. She’s currently pursing her MBE and WBE certifications. Her mission is to build a practice that has enough for-profit work to finance her non-profit projects; “I don’t want to rely an someone else to give us grants to do the work we want to do. And I don’t want to be a non-profit and horn in on their territory,” she says. Sounds like a pretty stellar plan to us.

text by lisa skolnik

Space Architects + Planners | www.spacearchplan.com

WHY WE LOVE HIM

We know so many excellent designers, but few have the stuff and stance of these partners. Both have earned every design qualification we can think of—including architecture and interior design licenses, LEED AP, registered energy professional and more, and look at it as keeping current, exploring possibilities and stocking their proverbial “toolbox”—all the better “to accommodate our clients,” notes Dufrense. They bring the same thoughtful approach to their seven-person practice, where “we operate as one big team. No hierarchies, no stars and all team players,” he explains. “You always need someone to keep you in check, and bounce things off,” agrees Keller. That approach may explain the accolades they’ve garnered for recent projects, such as Benchmark Restaurant & Bar in Old Town, which sports a 70-foot-long retractable roof for alfresco dining on the structure’s second story, and a historically significant Lincoln Park rowhouse, featured in local and national shelter magazines.

WHAT HE HAS DONE

These two are philosophical soul mates. “We don’t want to be pigeonholed, and like doing all kinds of work,” says Keller. Both have earned undergrad and graduate degrees in architecture, Keller at the University of Illinois in Urbana and Dufrense at McGill University in Montreal. Both also worked for commercial firms before they met at a small, now defunct residential firm, and founded their own shop in 2003. “We were both managing projects and thought ‘we can do this ourselves,’ so we left with just one little project—a deck,” chuckles Dufrense. With restaurants, offices, residences and a church under their belt, and their redesign of a luxury condo building in Wicker Park for The Prime Group about to come on the market, they’ve come a long way—but are hoping to go much farther. “We want to grow, get involved in teaching and do a high rise. And we know it’s coming,” quips Dufrense.

text by lisa skolnik

Lauren Lozano Ziol | www.laurenlozanoziol.com

WHY WE LOVE HER

Yes, she uses lots of those clean lines that so many of us associate with good design. But Ziol isn’t afraid to stir things up. “My true heart is in mixing periods and styles and having fun with the mix,” says the residential interior designer. So she might blend in some Old World, Art Deco, French ‘40s or Mid-century modern elements where she sees fit. Or perhaps pair abstract expressionist paintings with old world prints when designing for her high-end city dwelling clientele. Inspired by classic icons such as Jean-Michel Frank, Billy Baldwin and Jacques Grange, Ziol avoids stylized designs. Instead, she says, “I’m just always trying to create a timeless beauty for my clients.”

WHAT SHE HAS DONE

Ziol founded her design studio in 2002 after gaining experience at other Chicago architecture and design firms. Prior to designing, she worked in the antiques world as both a dealer and as a fine and decorative arts assistant at auction houses. “The people I’ve worked with have had a great influence on me,” Ziol says. With degrees in interior design and art history, she has studied at institutions around the world from Cleveland to Cairo. Ziol also recently started her own furniture line — which currently features a retro deco-style arm chair and bunching tables — that she sells through her studio and at Mecox Gardens in River North.

text by harlene ellin

Atelier Lira Luis | www.liraluis.com

WHY WE LOVE HER

You can’t help loving a person who repeatedly refers to herself as “crazy.” But forward-thinking architect Lira Luis is crazy in a good way. A disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright — she is the first Filipino-American graduate of his famed Taliesin School — Luis specializes in organic, sustainable architecture. At Taliesin, “I learned to coexist with my environment,” says Luis, who literally lived in the Arizona desert while earning her M.A. in architecture.Now, “whenever I design, I go back to my roots — to living in a tent and then in a desert shelter.” The global architect’s portfolio features an array of atypical, “socially responsible” projects from her award-winning Portable Transient Shelter Pods to an eco-friendly retail center in Glendale, Arizona. “My work,” she says, “becomes a grace to the landscape — not a disgrace.”

WHAT SHE HAS DONE

What hasn’t she done? A 2010 National Geographic/Aspen Institute Environment Forum Scholar, Luis also writes, blogs and speaks extensively about socially responsible architecture and design. She is a 2010 recipient of the AIA’s ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award and has produced an audiobook — FRANKly Speaking: It’s the WRIGHT Way — about her experiences as a Taliesin-trained architect. “I see things differently,” Luis says. “I question parameters and then I test the rules.”

text by harlene ellin

Square Root Architecture + Design | www.squarerootarch.com

WHY WE LOVE HIM

Mention pre-fab, and people conjure up either those low-income numbers that look like mobile homes or the budget-busting architectural dazzlers they see in Dwell. Sommers is focused on producing the latter---but for the middle income crowd that can spend $175 to $200 per square foot. And that’s rough in Chicago given its notoriously tough zoning rules. The persistent Sommers knows this all too well after spending the past three years developing C3 Prefab, a company focused on sustainable, energy efficient residences for his target market. But it’s paid off; his first project went up in Noble Square this past March and is just getting its finishing touches. Sounds like small shakes, but in fact it’s among a handful of prefab single-family residences ever built in the City, and its first green version. In fact, the project earned a stellar 48 on the HERS (Home Energy Rating System) index from Energy Star (most new construction projects come in at 100 to 125, and it takes 85 or less to earn the credential).

WHAT HE HAS DONE

Like one of his former employers, architect and 2009 Suite 16 winner Joel Huffman, Sommers is a multi-disciplinarian who wears several hats. He’s a licensed architect, has worked construction, builds and designs furniture and turned into a marketing maven to get C3 Prefab off the ground by holding a strategy workshop with pros and implementing what he learned. In doing so, he’s had countless meetings with prefab manufacturers, Chicago’s Department of Buildings, Department of Zoning & Land Use Planning and Green Homes Program (three separate entities), the USGBC and become more adept than he ever thought possible with social media. The next thing he may be tweeting is the LEED for Homes rating for his pre-fab project. “We should hear by June and are aiming for the highest level,” he admits. That would be platinum.

text by lisa skolnik

Holabird & Root | www.holabird.com

WHY WE LOVE HER

This historic preservation architect — and mother of three-month-old twins Amanda and Elizabeth — doesn’t just pick out pretty paint colors for historic buildings. “It’s not just about restoring the plaster,” says Brush, who is an architectural expert at Chicago’s storied Holabird & Root. “It’s also about how the plaster stays up on the walls and the ceiling.” Specializing in preservation’s most technical elements, Brush not only restores and enhances significant buildings’ interiors and exteriors, but she also makes these spaces sustainable and useful for future generations. “Preservation is the management of change,” she says. “We don’t want to just look backward and turn a building into a museum piece.” Brush, who has a lifelong appreciation for historic buildings, recognizes that she has a pretty remarkable job. “Hanging off the outside of a building, seeing the details only the architect or mason would have seen is pretty incredible.”

WHAT SHE HAS DONE

Brush, who is also AIA Illinois’ president elect, has worked on some of the city’s most notable preservation projects. These include a “full hands on” interior and exterior renovation of Holabird & Roche’s Monroe Building, the reparation of the exterior walls of Burnham and Root’s Rookery Building and the dazzling restoration of the Chicago Cultural Center’s famed Louis Comfort Tiffany glass dome. Brush is also the 2005 laureate of the prestigious Richard Morris Hunt Fellowship, where one American architect is chosen biennially to work with restoration professionals throughout France for six months.
“Chicago is an amazing city for architecture and restoration,” Brush says. “To be part of restoring the early skyscrapers that changed the face of the world is pretty amazing.”

text by harlene ellin

John Robert Wiltgen Design | www.jrwdesign.com

WHY WE LOVE HIM

It’s not surprising that John Robert Wiltgen’s first job was as a theatrical prop master, since the interior designer has a self-described penchant for the dramatic. “The style we work in is luxury,” says Wiltgen, who founded his firm in 1981 at the ripe old age of 22. “That’s absolutely what I do.” So it makes perfect sense that one of the high-end designer’s current projects is an opulent estate in Lagos, Nigeria which will feature both a mosque and a chapel for its Muslim and Christian owners. Wiltgen draws his inspiration from a plethora of glam sources — including David Adler’s Beaux-Arts-stlye architecture, Prada, Cartier, Oak Steet, Rodeo Drive and the Academy Awards. No matter if he’s styling spaces in an Art Deco building, a Mid-century modern high rise or the Trump Tower, Wiltgen strives to stun his affluent clients, he says. “When people walk into homes that we have designed, you can hear their chins hit the floor.”

WHAT HE HAS DONE

The tireless and driven Leo — who as a teen was kicked out of design school because he kept leaving his classes to meet clients — has won 32 awards during his estimable 30-year career. He’s worked on many amazing (predominately residential) projects from Chicago to, well, Nigeria and many points in between. One of his all-time favorite jobs was a lavish Lincoln Park home that started as a small remodeling/design project and ended — seven years later — as an almost complete redo, with Wiltgen adding some of his signature “drama.” (Here a rooftop waterfall drops 300 gallons of water per minute into a lily pond below.) Wiltgen, who heads a team of nine design assistants and interns, is exceptionally proud of the long-lasting relationships he has forged with many of his clients. In some cases “I’ve been there since their kids came out of the womb and now I’m watching them go off to college.”

text by harlene ellin

Centrum Properties | www.centrumproperties.com

WHY WE LOVE HIM

Barket develops residential and commercial real estate projects of all scales, with community-oriented substance, thoughtful architectural style and often lots of entertaining flash. They range from adaptive reuse townhomes such as Altgeld Court in Lincoln Park and the sleek, three-tower, luxury condominium project CityFront Plaza in south Streeterville, to family oriented retail developments such as the Riverpoint Shopping Center in Lincoln Park and groundbreaking mixed-use projects such as the Roosevelt Collection in the South Loop. But he remains a salt-of-the-earth guy true to his humble roots working construction and clean-up on his father’s development projects as a teenager in St. Louis---and is always coming up with something different and dazzling to tackle next. For now, that means an adaptive reuse of Tower Records most iconic store on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, and the renovation of Chicago’s sleepy Lincoln Park Hotel, which he promises will be a high-style sweet-spot when he’s through with it---“and have the best rooftop in town.” Here’s fair warning to theWit.

WHAT HE HAS DONE

Most real estate developers love the limelight, be it in the media or on the social circuit, and for good reason. It helps sell their projects. Not Barket. Mention his name, and you’re apt to hear “who?” Yet mention his projects, which number in the dozens after 25 years in the biz---and sparks of recognition fly. He and his Centrum partners transformed Montgomery Ward’s architecturally significant headquarters (designed by Minoru Yamasaki of World Trade Center fame) into The Montgomery, the city’s sweetest condos for art collectors (think sweeping floor plates and high ceilings), and the catalog company’s neighboring warehouse into Domain Lofts, an engaging environment thanks to its stellar amenities. And they’ve done high-profile yet street-friendly, lifestyle-oriented shopping ‘centers’ such as the North Avenue Collection and Chestnut Galleria. “I like to do things in urban neighborhoods and create something needed, but also intriguing and fun,” is all the low-key Barket will say about his work.

text by lisa skolnik

2define Architecture |
www.define-arch.com

WHY WE LOVE HIM

Today’s world covets height, so no wonder super-tall buildings have become our cultural icons and their architects our stars. But when we think tall, the names that come to mind are César Pelli, Adrian Smith, Renzo Piano and I.M. Pei. Yet when you cut to the world’s 10 tallest, that leaves Smith, Pelli and Marshall Strabala, who’s not a well-known name—yet. At SOM, he quietly shared design duties for two of the top 10 with Smith (Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates and the Greenland Financial Center in Nanjing, which are first and sixth respectively). Moving to Gensler, he was the lead on the Shanghai Tower, and not so quietly took the client with him when he left to found 2DEFINE last year. Now with offices in Shanghai, Seoul and Chicago, he’s finding his voice and giving us all sorts of projects to bend our necks about, including the Shanghai Tower, which will rank second tallest worldwide when done in 2014.

WHAT HE HAS DONE

“Performance-based architecture is hard to do,” points out Strabala. “You wouldn’t go to an internist for heart surgery.” And indeed, the game changes when you do really tall buildings, with the “complex and exacting structural and plumbing systems” requiring the most expertise. Strabala is technically adept, perhaps by nature as well as nurture. Hailing from a family of engineers, he started out in fine arts at UCLA, and then switched to architecture as a senior to follow a college girlfriend to Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. He had a natural affinity for the field, did well and got in. She didn’t, and the rest is history. And fortunately, he’s not all about height. We caught up with him in Chicago on his way back from Houston, where he attended the opening of his smallest, yet perhaps sweetest, project yet—the six-story Center for Dance that he designed as the home of the Houston Ballet. And he’s also feverishly at work on an equally compelling civic center that will house a library, a 1300 seat opera house, an urban planning museum and 490,000 sq. ft. conference center in Quanzhou.

text by lisa skolnik

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