Husband-and-wife architects Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen are on a roll. Last year, their five-person firm, UrbanLab, won the History channel's “City of the Future” competition. Then, in December, Felsen received the Young Architect Award from AIA Chicago. And this January they were appointed codirectors of Chicago's alternative design school, Archeworks. Somewhere amid this string of achievements, Dunn gave birth to their first child.
The couple met while graduate students at Columbia. After graduation, he moved to Chicago to teach at IIT while she went to work for Rem Koolhaas in Rotterdam. In a sense, Koolhaas also brought the pair back together: Dunn made numerous trips between Europe and Chicago as project architect for OMA's IIT campus center before joining Felsen full time in 1999.
They designed and built a live-work structure for themselves, sited halfway between their income-producing gigs at IIT (Felsen) and UIC (Dunn). Grants and project fees help keep the shop operating. “We put every penny towards the employees,” says Felsen, calling their fees fair and competitive. Says Dunn, “We've always thought, ‘We'll do our best and see what happens.' ” So far, the approach seems to be working out.