Keynote: The Future of Cities


The Future of Cities

Presented by Carol Ross Barney, FAIA, HASLA, Principal, Ross Barney Architects, at ENGAGE 2023 Practice + Design Conference.

Carol Ross Barney was a refreshing start to the final day of the conference. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the breadth of the history of Chicago, the impact of cities on the environment, and how we can make an impact one project at a time, was not only informational, but also inspirational. Carol also delivered this with a great sense of humor that was much appreciated first thing in the morning. 

Some striking statistics Carol shared to set the scene is that in 2000, 50% of the world’s population lived in cities, today that number has increased to 56%. By 2050 the urban population is expected to double, with 7 out of 10 people living in cities. That is some serious density. Cities are also hugely imperfect and have a significant impact on our environment. One third of energy and carbon consumption are generated by cities. 

One way that Ross Barney Architects is hoping to improve on this situation is the revitalization and reconstruction of some of the Chicago (CTA) train stations that were demolished during the 1960’s and 70’s. We thought we had solved it all with the vehicle and interstates, and as such, we felt confident in demolishing critical infrastructure. 

Carol Ross Barney | Unfound Door
Carol Ross Barney | Unfound Door

With the growth of cities and the environmental impact they have, infrastructure, especially mass transit, is extremely important. Ross Barney has been working with the City of Chicago on innovative ways to rebuild some of these lost stations, often with the lines remaining active. Through these projects, the team has addressed significant noise pollution issues (one station was above the OSHA approved decibel rating for a warehouse working environment), protection from the Chicago weather, and self-cleaning precast concrete solutions. 

Carol also shared the firm’s resiliency work with McDonalds. Yes, you read that right. Ross Barney Architects designed the first ever LEED certified McDonalds in Chicago. Based on that success, McDonalds came back and asked for a Net Zero restaurant at Disney World in Orlando. Not only does the climate make that a difficult task, but also the significant energy consumption required for the cooklines. 

The project utilized creative, automatic louvers for cross ventilation, a full roof of PV, and a cutting edge “stand by cook line.” Typically, cook lines are running constantly and thus consuming significant energy. For this project, Ross Barney and McDonalds worked with the manufacturers to develop a standby line; this allowed the energy consumption to be drastically reduced and the goal of net zero to be within reach. With the addition of passive cooling technology via the automatic louvers, building form, and the solar roof, the project was able to meet net zero. 

A fun tidbit to the Disney World McDonalds was the lawyer’s requirement that the building have an audio notice prior to the louvers opening instructing the patrons that “the building is about to breathe; please keep fingers clear of the louvers.” ….the hot coffee incident really left a mark on their legal team.

Carol Ross Barney | Unfound Door
Carol Ross Barney | Unfound Door

Carol rounded out her presentation with some work the firm has been doing in smaller cities. One such project was the Railyard Park in Rodgers, Arkansas. This town of 75,000 people was once a “water stop” along the Frisco rail line. Their downtown was bordered by the abandoned loading space and previous site of the train depot; leaving a large swath of unutilized area. Ross Barney Architects designed a park within this space for the community to use, which was the product of many community engagement efforts. The city has adopted the park as their space and holds frequent events (up to four a week) within it. A previously underutilized space has been reborn as a gathering place for the community. 

Carol’s presentation covered a lot of ground and a variety of project types and scales. The biggest take away for me was to not be overwhelmed with trying to fix whole cities at once. Focus on the individual project and what impact it can have on the city and the community. Collectively and over time, with thoughtful design, we can make meaningful change in our communities. Bonus points if you can do it with a little humor. 

See more ENGAGE 2023 Practice + Design Conference coverage at

Also, keep an eye out for Carol’s conversation with Adam Wagoner on the Architect-ing podcast to be released in the coming weeks.

About the Author

Kaylyn Kirby, AIA, NCARB

Kaylyn is an Associate and Licensed Architect at Semple Brown Design, where she leads and supports on a variety of projects from mixed-use, hospitality, and adaptive re-use. Through a diverse background that has led her across the country, she has a passion for designing with a sense of place. Kaylyn enjoys the creative problem solving that each project brings and the unique opportunities that can be found through the process. 

Active in the profession, Kaylyn has served on the AIA Colorado Board of Directors, multiple committees, and at the AIA National level. She is passionate about bringing up the younger generation of architects and advancing the profession. 

© AIA Colorado 2024
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