4 June 2024  | Newcity

Design 50 2024: The Fifty People Who Shape Chicago

By Vasia Rigou

Highlighting the continual evolution within Chicago’s design community through the creators of our city’s cultural scene, from our built environments to the realms of fashion and graphic design, is no small feat. They craft the spaces we live, work and play in, the products we eagerly anticipate, and the experiences we can’t wait to be part of. Their work is the heartbeat of Chicago culture—vibrant, dynamic and utterly unique. They draw us together. With community at the core of what they do, these creatives bind us to place and to one another. To say I’m inspired by those who made this year’s list—and of course the many more who were considered—would be an understatement. It’s a privilege to share their stories with you.


Gordon Gill, Adrian Smith and Robert Forest (Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture)

Adrian Smith, Gordon Gill and Robert Forest, the partners at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, must be bound by building codes and the laws of physics. And yet, nearly any encounter with them makes it seem they are only bound by imagination. Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center, opened in late 2021 and designed by Gill, is a sculptural, sweeping and edgy imagining of a theater space that manifests the spirit of a company that pushes boundaries. It’s also a wholly original take on a purpose-built theater that embodies the firm’s talent for bringing drama to space. The firm also designed the master plan and key permanent buildings for the 2021-22 Dubai World Expo, including the Al Wasl Plaza which features a giant open-air dome that moderates the climate by day and is the world’s largest 360-degree projection screen by night. The Expo site is transforming into a zone for high-tech industry and development, following a sustainable trajectory laid out in its master plan that aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and to maximize green public space. “The projects we’re working on now,” says Forest, “all focus on creating public space.” The firm is most famous for designing so-called supertalls, the rare but place-defining buildings that reach above 300 meters, or almost 1,000 feet. Smith designed Dubai’s Birj Khalifa, the world’s tallest (828 meters) building while at Skidmore. Opened in 2009, it is still a gleaming stunner straight from a sci-fi utopia. Now Smith+Gill will top that with the Jeddah Tower (one kilometer tall, or about 3,300 feet) in Saudi Arabia. Its smooth tapered form takes inspiration from fronds of palms native to the country. Borrowing a shape from nature also gives the building environmental advantages, such as making it more aerodynamic, which allows for the use of less steel and concrete than would have otherwise been necessary for strength. The slender supertall Central Park Tower (1,550 feet tall) in New York City that Architectural Digest described as a “jaw-dropping” and “icicle-like glass tower,” is the world’s tallest residential tower and widely regarded as the most beautiful of the new skyscrapers on Billionaires Row. Smith+Gill was among the first architecture offices to hire a full-time ecologist, Christopher Drew, to advance the sustainable strategies in all of its projects. Once completed, the firm’s fifty-five-story Forbes International Tower in Cairo, Egypt’s New Administrative Capital district will be the world’s first net-zero-carbon office tower. Drawing on the vast scope of its projects around the world, and its experiences enlivening the potential of cities and regions, the firm is also changing. It’s taking on more planning and consulting, often at the request of governments working on megaprojects with ambitious goals for sustainability. (Ted C. Fishman)

To view the entire list, please see Newcity 2024 Design 50