Wheeler Kearns Architects’ Selected Projects #2

History of Wheeler Kearns Architects

Wheeler Kearns Architects, headquartered in Chicago, was founded in 1987 by Dan Wheeler. He decided to open his studio, originally named Daniel Wheeler Architects, after he won a design competition for a large residential project in Michigan. However, Larry Kearns joined the studio as a principal in 1988 and in 1990 joined Dan Wheeler as a founding partner, thus the company becoming Wheeler Kearns Architects.

Architects collective Wheeler Kearns works with individuals who want to improve their lives by creating environments that reflect their passion, purpose, and vision. To handle the firm’s consistent flow of residential work, Wheeler hired one architect every year for the first ten years. WKarch is an expert in creating long-lasting structures for the residential and institutional markets. In its current form, the company is led by six owners: founding partners Dan Wheeler and Larry Kearns, Mark Weber (principal since 2001), Joy Meek and Jon Heinert (both principals since 2006), and Chris-Annmarie Spencer (principal since 2019).

Since their establishment in 1987, Wheeler Kearns Architects has sought to create designs and constructions that uplift, engage, and accommodate communities. Their goal is to create projects that are cherished, cared for, and ultimately maintained; they want to make intelligent use of their resources and combined efforts. To that end, WKarch is a participant in the AIA 2030 Commitment. The ideas and principles of sustainability have the ability to expand and enhance both our architectural language and culture, rather than losing any of its significance. WKA is dedicated to protecting the environment and wisely utilizing our natural and cultural resources.

They have made a number of steps as part of this pledge, including The WKA “Green Team” which is in charge of finding, planning, and putting into practice sustainable strategies for every facet of the design process and office operations. On top of that, their goal is to increase the number of employees that have Sustainable Certification Accreditation to 50% by 2025. Currently, they stand at 26% employees who are LEED accredited. They encourage employees to pursue a variety of accreditations through other rating systems.

Dan Wheeler, Founding Principal of WKarch

Mr. Wheeler works and practices to educate colleagues, clients, students, and himself about the limitless potential for architecture to improve everyday life, as well as the responsibility that comes with such an optimistic endeavor. He studied for two years in Rome as part of his education at the Rhode Island School of Design and worked as an Associate and Studio head at Skidmore Owings and Merrill in Chicago from 1981 to 1987 before starting his practice. Now he is also an architecture professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Dan has held the position of Interim Director at the UIC School of Architecture and the Graham Foundation. Since 2002, he has worked as a consultant architect and educator for the Rural Studio. In addition to writing and lecturing, he frequently serves on academic and professional juries. His prolific work and influence encompass a wide range of project types, including public institutions, non-profit organizations, and private commissions.

As a testament to his excellent work Dan has received numerous awards including the NEA Traveling Fellowship (1979), the CCAIA Young Architect Award (1984), the AIA Fellowship (1998), the Chicago Tribune’s “Chicagoan of the Year” in Architecture along with Lawrence Kearns (2008), and the AIA Illinois Nathan Ricker Clifford Award for Architectural Education (2017).

Larry Kearns, Founding Principal of WKarch

Mr. Kearns is drawn to projects with lofty social, economic, and environmental objectives. Lawrence Kearns (Larry) regularly gives talks on culture, education, and community-building topics to professional and academic audiences.

Among many others, he gave presentations at the Great Ideas conference of the ASAE in 2017 and the Asian Carp Challenge in Michigan in 2018. In 2016, he participated in a panel discussion at the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario and gave a presentation at SXSWedu. On top of that, Larry Kearns was named Chicago Tribune’s “Chicagoan of the Year” in Architecture, and in 2016, he was elevated to a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.  He is a LEED Accredited Professional and holds an architecture license in eight states.

Larry has won thirteen InnoCentive Challenges across a variety of disciplines. He was a finalist in the third round of the DOE’s Solar Prize for TrackerSled, which aims to stimulate rural economies with locally produced renewable energy, and he is currently a grantee of the Department of Energy.

Mark Weber, Principal at WKarch

After working for Wheeler Kearns since 1989, Mark was promoted to principal in 2001. He has finished a wide range of projects, from multiple single-family homes to small custom furniture pieces. In addition to serving on multiple juries, Mark has taught graduate-level studio and furniture design courses at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Additionally, he has completed a number of exhibit installations, such as the «Turn of the Century Home» display at the Renaissance Society and an international exhibition supported by Formica Corporation.

In 1982, he received his Bachelor of Science degree from Southern Illinois University, and in 1989, he earned his Master of Architecture degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 1987 and 1988, Mark was given departmental awards for Excellence in Design while he was at UIC. His varied professional background includes work on low-income housing, co-ownership of a construction/development company, furniture design and construction, and carpentry.

Mark is a member of the American Institute of Architects and a registered architect in the state of Illinois. In the past he coached hockey at St. Ignatius High School and served as vice president of the Beverly Area Local Development Corporation.

Joy Meek, Principal at WKarch

Ms. Meek joined Wheeler Kearns Architects in 1998, and in 2006, she was promoted to principal. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies with Honors from the University of Illinois in 1995, Joy went on to study at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. In 1998, she earned her Master of Architecture degree.

Joy is a licensed architect in Illinois, a LEED accredited professional, and a member of the American Institute of Architects. She has also worked with high school students interested in architecture on a year-long research project as a mentor for the Illinois Math and Science Academy’s Student Inquiry and Research Program.

She has experience working on both residential and institutional projects, such as the expansion and adaptive reuse project for Marwen – a nonprofit arts organization that offers free art classes to Chicago’s students. Joy also helped facilitate a 50′ dynamic, colorful mural in collaboration with students at Marwen that embodies hope and healing. The project has received five awards, including an AIA Illinois Honor Award.

Jon Heinert, Principal at WKarch

Mr. Heinert’s love of architecture stems from his creative process when building things. Wheeler Kearns hired Jon in 1999, and in 2006 he was promoted to principal. After graduating from the University of Virginia with a Master of Architecture, he was given the AIA Certificate of Merit and the Design Excellence Award. He won several student design competitions during his academic career, including the ACSA wood competition.

He has experience in a wide range of real estate development projects, with a particular emphasis on solutions centered around shared or public community spaces. Heinert has worked on two mixed-use, transit-oriented development (TOD) high-rise structures in Chicago, along the CTA blue line and Milwaukee Avenue. He has also worked on multiple award-winning projects such as the Lakeview Penthouse, the Orchard Willow Residence, and the Southwest Women Working Together, a nonprofit organization serving the West Englewood community on the Southwest side of Chicago.

Jon is a member of the American Institute of Architects and an architect registered in the state of Illinois. He is also a Registered Energy Professional and a Self-Certified Architect with the City of Chicago.

Chris Annmarie Spencer, Principal at WKarch

Ms. Spencer was born and raised in Manchester, Jamaica, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies from the Caribbean School of Architecture at the University of Technology in Kingston. After graduation, Chris-Annmarie and her family moved to the US, where she pursued further education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she graduated with a Master of Architecture. She joined Wheeler Kearns Architects in 2004, and was promoted to the position of firm principal in 2019.

Chris-Annmarie has overseen a number of notable projects, with an emphasis on adaptive reuse and community-driven work. These projects include Wolcott School, the first school in the Chicago area created especially for students with learning differences, Mansueto High School, and The Alice at the Goodman Theatre. Most notably, she assisted in converting three abandoned, overgrown lots and a century-old factory building on Chicago’s west side into the well-known community asset that is Inspiration Kitchens Garfield Park. This nonprofit organization has received ten national and local awards, including the 2013 Rudy Bruner Gold Medal Award for Urban Excellence. It provides job training to unemployed and underemployed people.

She is a member of both the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA). She assisted in starting the Diversity Scholarships program and currently serves as the AIA Chicago Foundation‘s board president.

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Company Culture at Wheeler Kearns Architects

Wheeler Kearns Architects is dedicated to maintaining an environment that encourages lifelong learning. Every worker shares the responsibilities of manager, technician, and designer equally. From project conception to post-occupancy evaluations, every employee is fully engaged in a project and receives cross-training across various market sectors in order to exercise the company’s comprehensive model.

While having just one mind to solve your problem is good, having many is preferable. As a «collective practice of architects,» they leverage their unique structure to gather several ideas from a team early on in the design process. It gives you access to a greater range of options. They always try to provide fresh perspectives on how you can fulfill your dreams.

WKA has been traveling throughout the US and occasionally abroad for more than 25 years in order to experience a location, its architecture, and its architects together on their office trips. It will allow them to ask, «Do you remember,» or, «Like we saw there.» and everyone «gets it.» They spend three days immersed in the customs, music, food, and culture of the area. They also enjoy hearing from local architects, visiting their offices, and touring some of their recent projects.

Our design process requires an uncommon level of attention, curiosity, devotion. Our clients use the word “partner” to describe us as often as “architect.” And we’re proud of that. It reflects our belief that along with a lofty vision, sometimes you also need someone willing to tackle the mundane.

By going with this philosophy, WKarch believes they are guided to what they call an «emotional centre» which represents the heart of the project. As they develop concepts, assist you in making decisions, and hone their responses to those decisions, they constantly refer back to that main idea.

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Architect-US is proud to work in close contact with Wheeler Kearns Architects and to be able to ensure the firm gets to know and work with amazing young architects like Cristina Asla Ortiz, whom we helped process her Visa and get a position at Wheeler Kearns Architects through our Job+J1 Visa Program! Cristina also took full advantage of our Portfolio Report Plan to improve her portfolio and as a result improve her chances of getting a job as an architect!

Cristina Asla Ortiz de Latierro

She pursued her Bachelor’s Degree at The University of Navarre Pamplona in Spain and graduated in 2019. Cristina has gained many achievements throughout her career in architecture such as getting her work selected for the COABU Exhibition in the Official Architects Association located in Burgos, Spain.

She is a Spanish architect who joined Wheeler Kearns Architecs through our Job+J1 Visa Program as a Trainee. As a junior architect, Cristina is enthusiastic about taking on novel and daring projects that integrate design, technique, construction, and ethics throughout the process. She has always had a strong connection to history and art, which inspired her to pursue a diploma in Curatorial Studies.

She has a vast working experience despite her young career including but not limited to being part of Space Encounters in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In the months she worked at Space Encounters, she tackled a variety of projects that varied greatly in scope and type. From building wood models for custom furniture to designing several hotels in various stages. She was a member of a demanding team and had to work simultaneously with multiple software programs to produce presentations, floorplans, diagrams, models, and renders due to the fast-paced nature of the office.

Wheeler Kearns Architects Selected Projects

St. Joseph Beach House – Michigan

A young family of four will find their new single-family home, St. Joseph Beach Residence, nestled into the vast dune grass along Lake Michigan.

An arrangement of volumes deliberately shapes distinct outdoor rooms and creates smaller, more defined interior living spaces in order to deconstruct the massing and scale of the enclosures as well as the open site. Traditional and modern are gracefully blended together by vernacular forms with polished black metal windows and doors, all covered in soft, weathering materials. The «neighborhood» facade that faces the street is formally expressed with privacy-protecting punched openings made of crisp black steel. On the other hand, floor to ceiling glass on the lakeside offers a connection to Lake Michigan and expansive views of the west dunes.

The horizontal shiplap wood cladding and the cedar shingles are designed to weather gracefully and provide protection against the constant wind from the lake. They have a taut, minimalistic detail. Due to its rot-resistant, long-lasting, and sustainable qualities, Radiata Accoya, an acetylated wood siding, was chosen in place of endangered hardwood siding.

The project has received the 2020 – Luxe RED Awards Contemporary/Modern Architecture – National Winner, the 2020 – Luxe RED Awards Contemporary/Modern Architecture – Regional Winner, and the 2020 – Builder’s Choice & Custom Home Design Awards – Merit Award.

Photos by WKarch

Go Green Community Fresh Market – Chicago, Illinois

Go Green Community Fresh Market, which is situated at Englewood’s 63rd and Racine Avenue, completes the first stage of the masterplan «Go Green on Racine,» which aims to revitalize a neighborhood that has been severely impacted by long-term systemic disinvestment. The initiative is led by Englewood organizations such as the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), Teamwork Englewood, EG Woode, and R.A.G.E (Resident Association of Greater Englewood).

The project renovates a two-story masonry building that was abandoned in 1906 and had extensive structural problems as well as fire damage. Utilizing what is already known and dependable is crucial to the project’s success, even though building a new structure might have been more expedient. The first floor is used for retail, most recently as a corner store called «A Lot To Save.» Reusing a building that has withstood the neighborhood’s decline is therefore symbolic and significant.

Many low-income Chicago neighborhoods lack access to grocery stores that sell healthy foods, instead relying on corner stores that sell mostly processed foods and have a limited supply of fresh food. With great ambition, The Fresh Market reimagines the urban corner store typology. It is still a familiar location, but it offers much more than just a regular store—it offers a dignified shopping experience, with locally sourced produce and ready-to-eat meals made by Chicago-area chefs. For about 6,000 residents, The Fresh Market is the only fresh produce retailer within a 10-minute walking distance. It’s a place to connect, a safe haven for fresh, healthy food, and a source of neighborhood pride and ownership.

Photos by WKarch

Hansberry College Prep – Chicago, Illinois

Hansberry College Prep is situated in a Chicago neighborhood with the highest dropout rate. It was established thanks to an innovative collaboration between the Noble Network of Charter Schools and another nonprofit. A dilapidated parochial school gymnasium building became the cornerstone of a new 1,100-student high school situated on grounds spanning an entire city block. The former school building is now quadrupled in size thanks to a single-story addition interspersed with three courtyards facing the street.

A 370-foot hallway acts as a «college corridor,» with lockers encircling a central alumni map and 435 college logos arranged geographically from end to end. Digital displays surrounding the map, which shows the US and an expanded version of the Midwest, scroll the biographies of current and former faculty and alumni. Students enrolled in Hansberry can peruse the condensed biographies of faculty members or previous students who overcame similar obstacles to gain admission to the colleges marked on the map.

Rustic courtyards provide natural light and seasonal color into the classrooms, offering a wide variety of learning environments instead of the double-loaded corridors found in typical district high schools.

Photos by WKarch

We will be posting more projects by Wheeler Kearns Architects in the upcoming weeks and months, so keep an eye out for more of their incredible work! Every Friday we will be posting a new Featured Company, so join us again next week!

Wheeler Kearns Architects

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