Carol is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Following graduation, she served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica planning national parks. She became the first female recipient of the Francis J. Plym Traveling Fellowship from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1982. She has taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Oklahoma (as the Goff Chair for Creative Architecture), and the Illinois Institute of Technology.
In 1981 she established Carol Ross Barney Architects and began working on her own with commissions from former contacts such as Wheaton College, a small liberal arts institution about thirty miles west of Chicago. She joined forces with Jim Jankowski, who also wanted to set up a practice in Chicago, and Ross Barney + Jankowski was formed in 1986. In 2005, after the departure of Jankowski, the name changed to Ross Barney Architects.
A long list of award-winning architecture undertaken by the firm includes the U.S. Post Office, Glendale, Illinois (1991 AIA Honor Award); Cesar Chavez Elementary School, Chicago (1994 AIA Honor Award for Architecture); Little Village Academy, Chicago (2000 AIA Honor Award for Interior Architecture and a 2002 AIA Honor Award for Architecture); and the Oklahoma City Federal Building (several awards). The firm also has captured numerous awards from AIA Chicago and local and state civic groups. In 2005 Carol Ross Barney won a prestigious American Institute of Architects Thomas Jefferson Award.
Ross Barney speaks about her motivations to practice architecture; her early career, including working at Holabird and Root; starting her own firm; her relationship to Chicago; the design process employed by her firm and how it has evolved over time; how she approached the design process for the U.S. Federal Building in Oklahoma City; the future of her firm and architectural practice in general; Chicago Women in Architecture; combining professional and family life; and the Cape Girardeau Courthouse project.
Funding for this oral history was provided by the Graham Foundation for the Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. It is one of a series of three videotaped oral histories of female architects coordinated in conjunction with Chicago Women in Architecture.