Ross Barney Architects, Studio-MLA, and Colloqate Design among winners of 2021 National Design Awards

A Round of Applause, Please

Ross Barney Architects, Studio-MLA, and Colloqate Design among winners of 2021 National Design Awards

The Chicago Riverwalk, a major (hometown) project of just-named 2021 National Design Award winner Ross Barney Architects. (Kate Joyce Studios)

Kicking off National Design Month, New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has announced the 2021 recipients of its annual National Design Awards program. Like in years past, there are a sure to be a few familiar names to AN readers among this year’s nine jury-selected award categories:

Cheryl D. Miller (Design Visionary)
InVert Self-Shading Window by Doris Sung (Climate Action)
Colloqate Design (Emerging Designer)
Ross Barney Architects (Architecture and Interior Design)
Imaginary Forces (Communication Design)
Behnaz Farahi (Digital Design)
Becca McCharen-Tran (Fashion Design)
Studio-MLA (Landscape Architecture)
BioLite (Product Design)

Recognized in the Architecture and Interior Design and Landscape Architecture categories are two firms, Ross Barney Architects and Studio-MLA, respectively, perhaps best known (and most-awarded) for their transformative work along titular urban watercourses with unique and extensive manmade and natural histories. Both waterways are in the cities, Chicago and Los Angeles, where each winning firm was founded.

“Our philosophy is that design matters all the time,” Ross Barney Architects’ founder and design principal, Carol Ross Barney, FAIA, Hon. ASLA, told AN in a statement. “The National Design Awards program, the Cooper Hewitt strives to make people aware of the importance and impact of design on daily life. It is amazing to have our work recognized with this award.”

exterior view of a visitor pavilion at a zoo
Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo Searle Visitor Center by Ross Barney Architects. (Kendall McCaugherty, Hall + Merrick Photographers)

Completed in 2016, the multi-phase expansion of the Chicago Riverwalk, a one-and-a-quarter-mile-long swath of multi-use civic space situated between Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, has earned Ross Barney Architects, which is now celebrating its 40th year, multiple awards and honors. In 2017, Carol Ross Barney was awarded the AIA Chicago Lifetime Achievement Award for that lauded project and projects prior.

In addition to the Chicago Riverwalk, other Ross Barney Architects projects recently profiled by AN include a railway-butting public park in Rogers, Arkansas; the Lincoln Park Zoo Searle Visitor Center in Chicago, and two singular MacDonald’s flagships outposts, one located n Chicago’s River North neighborhood and the other within Walt Disney Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

In its awards announcement, Cooper Hewitt described Ross Barney Architects as a studio “dedicated to the design of ‘noble’ projects, without the most generous budgets or the most sought-after commissions, but those that are important to daily life and require innovative interventions.” The announcement added: “Ross Barney Architects’ best work is often for unexpected, compelling projects that go beyond architecture, and exist on the edges or in the margins where design thought and consideration might not conventionally come into play.”

Studio-MLA, a locally and nationally lauded landscape architecture and urban design studio founded by Salvadorian-born American landscape architect Mia Lehrer, FASLA, has also led and collaborated on a slew of projects recently profiled by AN including the River-Side Gateway Project Suite, in Riverside, California; Destination Crenshaw in South Los Angeles, Audrey Irmas Pavilion at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and, last but not least, the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan.

a person enjoying a bike ride
A cyclist enjoys riding along a path created as part of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan. (Courtesy of Studio-MLA)

Along with its main L.A. studio, Studio-MLA, described by Cooper Hewitt as a practice that “integrates landscape architecture, urban design and planning to create places that inspire human connection, unite communities, and restore environmental balance,” also maintains an office in San Francisco.

Last fall, Lehrer, who served a four-year term on the United States Commission of Fine Arts from 2014 to 2018, was appointed to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Board of Commissioners by Mayor Eric Garcetti.

In addition to Ross Barney Architects and Studio-MLA, another 2021 National Design Award winner that might be familiar to AN readers in the Emerging Designer category is Colloqate Design. A multidisciplinary architecture and design justice practice, Colloqate Design was established in New Orleans in 2017 by Bryan C. Lee Jr. Named as one of the Architectural League of New York’s 2019 Emerging Voices, the not-for-profit studio is focused on “expanding community access to, and building power through, the design of social, civic and cultural spaces,” detailed Cooper Hewitt. “Its mission is to intentionally organize, advocate and design spaces of racial, social, and cultural justice throughout the built environment.”

a person walking through an installation
Colloqate Design’s Storia Project: Delta in New Orleans. (Courtesy Colloqate Design)

“We want to be the most radical design firm out there,” Lee told AN in 2019, “and we need to build buildings to do that.”

Throughout October, the nine winners will take part in a host of virtual activities—including talks, tours, workshops, and more—in celebration of National Design Month. Per Cooper Hewitt, the online programming will be held free of charge, “welcoming everyone, anywhere, to discover the importance of design.”

“The 2021 National Design Award winners challenge the boundaries of their fields—from community and future-focused to socially responsible design, these designers fill us with an optimism for the future by demonstrating the transformative capacity of design,” said Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar, interim director of the museum, in a statement. “We invite all to join us during Cooper Hewitt’s National Design Month programming to make the most of the rich opportunities to celebrate this amazing cohort of award winners and learn about their paths, passions, processes and bodies of work.”

First Lady Jill Biden served as Honorary Patron for this year’s National Design Awards, which was first established in 2000 as a project of the White House Millennium Council. Award jurors for the 2021 cycle were: Kofi Boone, Billy Fleming, Joe Gebbia, Kristine Johnson, Grace Jun, and Patricia Saldaña Natke.

Learn more about the diverse and remarkable achievements of all the 2021 awardees here.