Chicago’s Kwong Von Glinow on optimism and architecture
The American Midwest has been shaking up the world of architecture. As part of our Next Generation 2022 project, we meet ten emerging practices pioneering change, among them Chicago-based Kwong Von Glinow
Optimism is a driving force of Chicago practice Kwong Von Glinow (KVG). How does that manifest? Often, in houses, or rather, the reimagining of traditional dwellings to create unique homes for unique residents. One such building is Ardmore House in Chicago and a 12,000 sq ft Howard Van Doren Shaw home in Highland Park, Illinois, for an art collector family (the practice has a particular knack for working with artists, collectors and art institutions).
‘Our work translates forward-looking architectural concepts into playful designs with broad appeal,’ says Alison Von Glinow, who, before co-founding KVG in 2017, worked with internationally acclaimed practices including Pritzker Prize-winners Herzog & de Meuron in Basel; SOM in both Chicago and New York; Toshiko Mori Architect in New York; and Svendborg Architects in Copenhagen. Lap Chi Kwong worked with Herzog & de Meuron too, as well as Amateur Architecture Studio, on projects including M+ museum in Hong Kong, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the Kramlich Residence & Gallery in California.
Buildings of all types and scales that feel familiar yet are not quite as they seem are KVG’s MO. ‘If there is some thread that ties our work together – we sometimes talk about the idea of “some of this, some of that”,’ say the duo, who met at Harvard Graduate School of Design. ‘It sounds ad hoc and arbitrary, but on the contrary, we think it is actually a rather precise and controlled approach [to] design. It’s neither only this and only that, nor all of this and all of that. We enjoy finding ways to create a balance that can be some of this and some of that.’
The ‘some of this and that’ approach extends to the practice’s three most recent projects: all historical renovations with additions. ‘On one hand, we need to respect the existing building and appreciate the things that were done in the past and are not able to be produced in the same manner anymore. On the other hand, historic spaces need to function for contemporary living. Users should not be obligated to live like people did 100 years ago,’ says Von Glinow.
Focused on creating ‘innovative living environments, places for cultural engagement, urban public space, and contemporary workspaces’, the co-founders view Ardmore House as one of their key accomplishments. ‘We designed the home around values rather than criteria,’ says Kwong. The speculative housing development won the AIA Chicago Small Project Honor Award, AIA Chicago Distinguished Building Citation of Merit, and AIA Illinois Excellence in Interiors Award for projects under 5,000 sq ft.
The duo are keen to update any lingering perception of architecture as a professional service-led industry: ‘Engaging with different arts and cultural institutions allows us to expand our knowledge and learn more about our city through another perspective,’ they say. ‘We were excited to question how we could rethink homes by “smuggling” architecture to their interiors,’ adds Von Glinow, referencing an installation titled Smuggling Architecture that they created with a Graham Foundation grant, which was shown at the Swiss Architecture Museum.
Their optimism extends to the future of architecture: ‘We see some places, like Switzerland, many European countries, and Hong Kong, have city-driven initiatives and organisations that guide young practices for a successful path. The more the cities acknowledge, build, and foster young design professionals and cultures, it will encourage more young practices to engage in building an even better city.’ §