Cynthia Weese, FAIA
Steven E. Gross Cynthia Weese, FAIA

The following is a press release from AIA Chicago naming Cynthia Weese, FAIA, the recipient of its 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award.

AIA Chicago, the second largest chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the collective voice of over 4,000 licensed architects, emerging professionals, architecture students, and allied professionals, today announced that Cynthia Weese, FAIA, Principal of Weese Langley Weese Architects, will receive the 2023 AIA Chicago Lifetime Achievement Award. Weese will be given the award at Designight 2023 AIA Chicago’s held at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Chicago’s Millennium Park on Thursday, September 28, 2023.

“Cynthia has been a trailblazer for women in the field of architecture.” said Mindy Viamontes, 2023 AIA Chicago President. “Her influence will continue to inspire female leaders for generations to come.”

For nearly fifty years, Cynthia Weese has served the architectural profession as a reformer working to advance women in the field, as a design innovator in affordable housing, adaptive reuse and educational facilities, and as an academic visionary. Weese’s life-long fascination with architectural design began as a child in Iowa where three buildings sparked her imagination: Eliel Saarinen’s Art Center in Des Moines, Iowa; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax Research Tower in Racine, Wisconsin; and her grandmother’s Craftsman-style home built by her grandfather in Des Moines.

Inspired by these spaces, Weese attended Washington University in St. Louis where she earned a B.S., Architectural Sciences and a B.Arch. After obtaining her degrees, Weese began her career in Chicago where she became a leader in the profession. In 1974, she became a founding member of Chicago Women in Architecture (CWA), the groundbreaking forum advocating for women architects. In 1978, after two major architectural exhibitions in Chicago opened with no women architects represented, she organized the exhibit “Chicago Women Architects: Contemporary Directions” under the aegis of CWA and with support from the Graham Foundation.

Weese’s work in and outside the design studio challenged the status quo. She joined a group of Chicago architectural innovators, known as the Chicago Seven, who supplanted rigid mid-century modernism through their design work and exhibitions. Weese was founding member and first woman president of the Chicago Architectural Club, and member, vice president and president of the AIA Chicago board. Between 1993 and 2005, Weese served her alma mater as dean of the School of Architecture, becoming the first woman to serve as dean of a college at Washington University.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is nominated by the AIA Chicago general membership, reviewed by a Committee of Fellows and previous Lifetime Achievement Award winners, and selected by the AIA Chicago Board of Directors.

In awarding the Lifetime Achievement Award, the AIA Chicago Board of Directors noted that Weese is “a true pioneer and vanguard for the profession, city and women architects. Her portfolio, experiences and dedication to the profession is a fantastic example of true leadership. Cynthia has been an unwavering advocate for women in the professions and continues to inspire younger generations.”

In 1977, Weese established her studio Weese Langley Weese Architects which became known for its creative designs for adaptive reuse, affordable housing, academic buildings and museum galleries. Among Weese’s most significant works are:

  • Harris Hall, Northwestern University: renovation of historic classroom building
  • Gallery House for an Artist, Empire, Michigan
  • Noyes Hall, University of Chicago: conversion of pool into business school study space
  • A New Leaf event space, 1820 North Wells, Chicago
  • F.W. Olin Classroom Building, Luther College, Decorah, Iowa
  • Avery Coonley School Expansion, Downers Grove, Illinois
  • Art Institute of Chicago, Kraft General Foods Education Cente
  • Studio of a New Leaf, 1816–18 North Wells, Chicago
  • Koren Classroom and Faculty Office Building, Luther College, Decorah, Iowa
  • 880 Lake Shore Drive: apartment renovation in Mies van der Rohe building
  • Chicago City Day School Expansion, Chicago, Illinoi
  • 1758 North Wells, Chicago: townhouse renovation
  • 100 West Chestnut Apartments, Chicago: 280-unit residential highrise
  • Cynthia Parry apartment: renovation in Sol Kogin Building
  • A House in the Woods, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
  • Chestnut Place Apartments, Chicago: 280-unit residential highrise
  • Kuntz House, Wayne, Illinois
  • A New Leaf, 1646 North Wells, Chicago: numerous interventions
  • 1211 North LaSalle, Chicago: conversion of 17-story SRO hotel into apartments
  • Illinois Corn Crib: conversion of corn crib into weekend retreat.

“Cynthia’s place in the overall canon of Chicago architecture is a significant one.” said AIA Chicago’s Executive Director Jen Masengarb. “She is the only woman in the ranks of architectural innovators known as the Chicago Seven and serves as a founding member of two institutions – Chicago Women in Architecture and the Chicago Architectural Club – which enrich both gender and thought diversity in our community. Her work in the profession, academia, and the non-profit sector continues to broaden horizons for women in the profession today.”

Weese has received numerous awards for her leadership in service as a reformer, design innovator and academic visionary:

  • 2018 Award for Excellence in Design, Leadership and Service, Society of Architectural Historians
  • 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award, Chicago Women in Architecture
  • 2010 Award for Contributions to the Field of Architecture, Society of Architectural Historians
  • 2010 Sam Fox School of Design, Washington University, Dean’s Medal
  • 2007 Washington University Distinguished Alumni Award
  • 2004 AIA Illinois Excellence in Education Award
  • 2002 Tau Sigma Delta Gold Medal in Architecture
  • 1995 AIA St. Louis Honor Award in Architecture, The Secret Garden of a New Leaf
  • 1992 AIA Chicago Honor Award in Interior Architecture, 880 Lake Shore Drive City Apartment
  • 1991 Fellow, American Institute of Architects
  • 1990 AIA Chicago Distinguished Service Award
  • 1990 AIA Chicago Honor Award in Interior Architecture, The Secret Garden of a New Leaf
  • 1990 Metropolitan Chicago YWCA: Outstanding Achievement Award

Previous recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award are Ralph Johnson, FAIA, LEED AP (2022); Stuart Cohen, FAIA (2021); Phillip C. Johnson, FAIA (2020); John Syversten, FAIA (2019); Peter Landon, FAIA (2018); Carol Ross Barney, FAIA (2017); Ronald Krueck, FAIA (2016); Richard H. Driehaus (2015); John Vinci, FAIA (2014); Stanley Tigerman, FAIA (2013); Helmut Jahn, FAIA (2012); Ben Weese, FAIA (2011); Natalie DeBlois, FAIA (2010); Gertrude Lempp Kerbis, FAIA (2008); John Holabird, Jr., FAIA (2007); Walter Netsch, FAIA (2006). In 2009, Daniel Burnham, FAIA and Edward Bennett, FAIA, were recognized posthumously on the centennial of The Plan of Chicago.

Other awards to be given at Designight 2023 on September 28 include the Design Excellence Awards (recognizing projects of all scales, from Architecture XS to XL, and Interior Architecture S to L), the Decarbonization Award, and the Roberta Feldman Architecture for Social Justice Award which is administered by the AIA Chicago Foundation. Designight 2023 will also feature the second annual People’s Choice Awards presented in partnership with the Chicago Architecture Center.

Finalists for the juried awards and the Lerch Bates People’s Choice Awards will be announced in August along with information on how the public can vote for their favorite designs.

This release has been updated.