Jan 10th 2024

More Than an Education: The College of Architecture Experience

The alumni community is just one of the benefits for Illinois Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture (COA) graduates, opening job opportunities and providing a connection to acclaimed architects. Little did Annabell Ren (B.ARCH. ’14) know it would become the cornerstone of her career.

Ren, born and raised in China, came to the COA as a second-year undergraduate student. She very quickly met classmate, future business partner, and now husband Steven Karvelius (ARCH ’14). “My journey at IIT not only shaped my professional life, but also brought me love. I met my husband at IIT on the first day of school,” Ren says.

Besides finding a lifelong partner, Ren’s time at IIT was highlighted by her experience as an international student.

“It’s the group meal with your professors in Chinatown after a semester, showing them how hotpot works. It’s the ice-cold large green tea frappuccino from Starbucks after the final review, with all of your friends walking in the snow. It’s the sunrise from the east side of the S. R. Crown Hall when you stay up until the next morning to get work done. It’s the time when my English was poor, but I gained confidence and respect with my work during the final review from professors, classmates, and reviewers,” Ren says.

After earning her bachelor of architecture at IIT, followed by a Master of Urban Design at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Ren joined her undergraduate alma mater as an adjunct professor in 2019.

By 2020, Ren, Karvelius, and fellow alumnus Elliott Riggen (B.ARCH. ’16) had founded NEW OFFICE, an award-winning studio of nine designers, architects, and interns. All but two are IIT alumni or are attending the College of Architecture.

“I am always fascinated by some of my student's work and spirit after a semester working together, so I would reach out to invite them to apply for our internship positions. Our first intern, Sarah Kay Stephen (B.ARCH ’23), became a full time employee after she graduated,” Ren says.

NEW OFFICE focuses on “community-related public work in the South and West neighborhoods of Chicago. We also work on a variety of smaller scale residential, commercial, and installation work,” Ren says.

A Lincoln Park condo renovation project is a particular favorite for Ren. Just weeks before the March 2020 pandemic shutdown, she and Karvelius bought a 120-year-old home in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago with renovation in mind. After months of design, paint, and woodwork, the project would be featured in Dwell Magazine, Crain’s Chicago Business, and AN Interior. The renovation also won the 2023 AIA Chicago Citation of Merit award.

Ren thanks her time at the College of Architecture, both as a student and as a faculty member, for the award-winning designs. “We wouldn’t have won this award without the skills I learned at IIT’s woodshop since we designed and built the whole project ourselves.”