Mar 24th 2022

Lincoln Park Condo Renovation, Silicon Valley Tech Installation Put IIT Architecture Faculty in the Public Eye

Annabell Ren (ARCH ’14) needed a project to stay grounded after it became clear the COVID-19 lockdown would keep her at home for a long time.

The IIT College of Architecture adjunct professor purchased a Lincoln Park condo just before the March 2020 shutdown. Ren and her husband, Steven Karvelius (ARCH ’14), only had one tour and about a week to purchase the home to keep up with the fast pace of the housing market.

“It’s a historical house with original windows, floors, high ceilings—good historical bones,” Ren says. “We bought it and knew we wanted to make changes. We just didn’t know what they would be.”

They settled on handmade entrance and living room units that emphasized multi-use: closet space, comfortable seating, shoe storage, and more. Painting and a bathroom redux rounded out the main projects.

The couple didn’t expect their home renovation to spark the interest of Dwell, a modernist shelter magazine, along with other publications in early 2022. Their handcrafted furniture and interior decor caught the eye of readers and DIY enthusiasts.

The personal project was one of the first for New Office, a studio co-founded in February 2020 by Ren, Karvelius, and Elliott Riggen (ARCH ’16), who met during their time as IIT Architecture students. A student intern, Sarah Kay Stephens (B.ARCH 4th Year), rounds out the group. The team has expanded to other architectural projects including residential, commercial, mixed-use, and community-focused, and likes to leave a handmade item with every project.

“[At IIT Architecture] we do a lot of woodworking and making in the Materials Lab. We want to bring that into the work [New Office] does by designing the architecture and interior space and also crafting a significant piece of furniture or millwork,” Ren says. “If it’s a home renovation, it can be a dining table that centers the family experience.”

Adjunct Professor of Architecture Vincent Calabro also drew national attention after his architecture and design studio, Office of Things, was named among the “Next Progressives” in the December 2021 issue of Architect magazine.

The studio, which Calabro co-founded with four other friends from Yale University—Lane Rick, Can Vu Bui, Katie Stranix, and JT Bachman—launched in 2016 with the first entry into what would become its Immersive Space series: creating a meditation space in a room at Gladstone House, a Toronto hotel known for its emphasis on art and culture. The group ran with the idea of a unique, relaxing space by integrating a lowered ceiling, forcing participants to sit or lie down. The roof had a large cutout filled with dim yet colorful light strings, imitating a fanciful cloud.

Soon Silicon Valley companies were asking for their own immersive spaces in their main offices. Each space, sometimes only 10 feet square in size, has presented challenging problems to overcome.

“We’re taking a tiny space and making it feel really big and immersive, transporting you outside of that middle-of-your-workday slump,” Calabro says. “You can go down the hall, go into this little room, and be transported away for 10 minutes and let your mind wander.”

Both faculty members are passing along their experiences as practicing architects and designers to the next generation of architects.

Ren highlights the importance of students taking part in hands-on building, a cornerstone of the IIT Architecture curriculum and studio sequence, while Calabro says he advises students to keep their whole project in focus.

“[Architecture] is not just the concepts, and it’s not just the schematic designs, but how it’s all put together and how it’s executed,” Calabro says. “All those things matter, and they all contribute to the project, and you, as the architect, are responsible.”