Five Chicago Leaders Pioneering Interdisciplinary Design

10/02/2019 By Irena Frumkin

“Interdisciplinary” has long been a word defining the work of many visual artists, filmmakers, writers, and musicians, and is now becoming almost synonymous with today’s leading interior design and architectural practices.

Advances in technology, changing behaviors towards climate and sustainability, and an increased understanding of how interiors affect our everyday lives have propelled the need for designers to be jacks or jills of all (or many) trades.

Beyond collaborating with various industries or professions, interdisciplinary design involves applying the skills, knowledge and belief systems of multiple disciplines. This can provide designers the opportunities to take on involved, unique projects; employ multi-faceted project teams and stay ahead of the curve in their industry. 

Through crossing over with environmentalism, psychology, urban planning, industrial and furniture design, education and community-building, designers can keep up with the ever-evolving needs of different stakeholders and implement meaningful space creation and problem-solving.

In a design-forward city like Chicago, we can find many designers creating spaces through interdisciplinary practices. Here are five Chicago designers and architects thinking outside of the box and using their platform for interdisciplinary work.

Jackie KooJackie Koo, IIDA, AIA, Principal, KOO

Koo is the founder of the interdisciplinary, full-service design practice KOO, which specializes in architecture, interior design and planning. KOO crafts engaging, visual narratives for the spaces they design by engaging the power of hospitality and its psychological influence on end users.

(Courtesy of Jackie Koo at KOO)

Her work ranges from utilizing service robots and a rooftop edible garden for the art and science hotel EMC2, to creating a Math Emporium meant to spark interest in mathematics for the City Colleges of Chicago.

Koo understands the interdisciplinary work it takes to create meaningful spaces, and employs a collaborative team of visionary designers, architects and urban planners to do so.

KOO’s latest project in Chicago is Offshore, a 36,000-square-foot rooftop bar featuring an enormous terrace, performance stage, private lawns and lush greenery.

Karen Herold, Founder and Principal, Studio K Creative

After coming to the U.S. in 1998 from Amsterdam, Herold worked for 555 International, developing dynamic retail-focused interiors.

In her home country, she had received a fashion degree with a focus in textiles, which provided her with an acute sense of materiality that she injects into all of her design projects.

(Photo by Eric Kleinberg)

After 13 years with 555, a desire to work more directly in an interdisciplinary and versatile way inspired her to open Studio K Creative, a multidisciplinary creative house known for designing some of Chicago’s most iconic restaurant spaces including Girl and the Goat, GT Prime and Maple & Ash.

The firm employs both interior and industrial designers and boasts a collection of bold tiles inspired by an original French brasserie.

Studio’s K’s recent projects in Chicago include the Nobu-branded hotel and restaurant, which will grace Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, and Wicker Park’s Fox Trot Market, an “elevated” convenience store offering everything from a rotating tap selection to grab n’ go eats.

Deon Lucas, Director, Beehyyve, President, E.G. Woode

Lucas, an architect and community advocate, sees the building and strengthening of communities going hand-in-hand with the building of actual spaces. In addition to his architectural and engineering practice Beehyyve, the Chicago West Side native is involved with E.G. Woode, a collective of entrepreneurs devoted to rebuilding underserved Chicago neighborhoods by providing a platform for growing local businesses.

Deon Lucas
(Courtesy of Deon Lucas at Beehyyve)

The organization, which recently transformed a long-vacant space in the heart of Chicago's Englewood neighborhood into its headquarters, offers marketing, development and real estate support to minority business owners. Its ethos of community-building allows for the neighborhood and its residences to build internally.

Using his expertise and connections as a designer and architect, Lucas has been able to strengthen communities and create accessible and affordable spaces throughout the city.

Jeanne Gang, Founder, Studio Gang

Gang is the founder of interdisciplinary architecture and urban design practice Studio Gang, renowned for boundary-pushing projects that emphasize sustainability, community activism, and creative collaboration.

[Related: IIDA: Increasing and Challenging Diversity at University Level Needed]

A well-respected leader of interdisciplinary design, Gang’s body of work combines environmentalism, social connectivity, urban planning, and sustainable technology. She has pioneered projects that increase the health and wellness of city occupants like Chicago’s Northerly Island and Lincoln Park Nature Boardwalk, and the reimagining of the Civic Commons in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park.

In 2011 Gang was awarded the MacArthur “Genius Grant,” and in 2019, a Studio Gang-led team won the bid to design an $8.5 billion expansion of O’Hare International Airport’s Global Terminal and Global Concourse, which is set to be realized in 2028.

Tom Marquardt, IIDA, President and Founder, marquardt+

With over 30 years of design experience, industry veteran Marquardt established his own uniquely interdisciplinary design firm marquardt+ in 1988 and is busy relaunching its practice for 2020.


(Courtesy of Tom Marquardt at marquardt+)

Marquardt’s body of work is the definition of interdisciplinary—with a triple degree in graphic, industrial and interior design, his past collaborations have included:

  • A front-of-house retail experience for Cirque du Soleil’s traveling show
  • The Plum Creek Nature Center in Will County, IL
  • The Maya Romanoff flagship store, which showcases custom-designed wall coverings systems, lighting elements and furniture, for which he utilized a team of interior designers, architects, graphic designers and industrial designers

Marquardt is dedicated to investigating the process of design and works to bridge the gap between marketing, design, branding and human connection. He applies his philosophy of “seeing no limits” to every challenge he takes on.

Read next: Boutique Designers Discuss How to Make a Local Impact

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