Affiliate Member Spotlight


Affiliate members are invaluable to the architecture community. Contractors, insurance agents, product representatives, manufacturers, real estate professionals, and more make up this group of individuals and firms that support AIA Chicago's tours, programs and parties. 

Introducing: Terry R. McDonnell, AffIL. AIA CHICAGO, PE, SE
Structural Principal, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger

Tell us a little bit about what you do at SGH. How long have you been with the company? What do you love about your job?

I came to SGH nearly four years ago as a Partner with Principal responsibility. What this means is that I am equally responsible for bringing in work and executing work. Our delivery teams are formed based on the needs of the project, so I get to work with many different depending on the project. I love meeting new people in general, and that is no exception at SGH where they were 500 people when I started and now close to 600. With the more people you meet the more you learn, not only about work but life in general. In just four short years I have met people both in and out of SGH that I now consider friends.

Why did you decide to join AIA Chicago as an Affiliate member?  

I joined AIA awhile back (many years before joining SGH). I initially joined to network for business. However, I enjoy so many things about AIA; going to learning seminars, getting to tour buildings under construction, and as I mentioned above meeting so many nice (and talented) individuals. Once you get past introductions and really talk to someone, it brings out the humanity in all the work we are doing, and sometimes those stories are amazing!

What have you gained from your AIA Chicago membership? 

I have certainly met people that I now support on their projects. But more importantly, I have learned a lot about how and why a building or property is massed, planned, and programmed. These were parts of the design process I knew little about before joining AIA. This background helps inform the engineering support that I provide to the building and sculpts the thinking about structural design options. And of course, the friendships I have gained.

What are some of your favorite events hosted by AIA Chicago?

The most enjoyable thing I have done with AIA was their Grassroots Illinois Legislation day at Springfield, IL. You get on a chartered bus in the morning, go down to Springfield, and meet with your representatives from the State House and Senate. You have the opportunity to meet with them in a nearly one on one setting and you see firsthand how governing, lobbying, and legislation takes place.  I’ll give you a hint, it looks messy….but it was so worth the trip to actually connect with the people who represent you.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new Affiliate member, what would it be?

Go to the lectures and social hours at AIA’s offices. You will meet unique and talented people in a very friendly and outgoing atmosphere. Ask a lot of questions, and don’t be afraid to volunteer if they need help with even small things. The relationships you develop with this type of participation will last you a lifetime.

What are some of your favorite Non-AIA Chicago events in the city? 

When I still lived in the city, a group of friends would meet on Friday afternoons at the end of Navy Pier and just relax with a beer or two. It is a long walk, but the crowd gets thinner and thinner as you go and eventually there is just you and your friends at an outdoor table with the lake on one side and the skyline on the other. Speaking of Navy Pier, I am still looking forward to participating in the Aeron Chair hockey charity tournament that I understand has a large participation from AIA firms. So, if anyone reading this needs an extra player, let me know!

Finally, what is your favorite Chicago building or space? 

Oh my, this is a tough one. I bet many people would choose buildings they have worked on (for me that would be UBS Tower or the Glass Ledge).  But I am going to go in a different direction based on public spaces.  I would say I have two:

First; Skate on State (now at Millennium Park). The first five years I lived in the city I would go to Skate on State multiple times per week over lunch and really enjoyed being outdoors, getting exercise, and easily viewing the Marshall Field's holiday decorations. In my mind, Chicago is the best city in the world around Christmas time. When it moved to Millennium Park it became an even better public space (though one I admit I visit less due to proximity to my office).

Second, is the Lucas Museum, as an unrealized space. Now, I am a huge Star Wars fan, so there is a little bias. And say what you want about the style of building, it was unique. Chicago was re-built with architectural experimentation after the fire, and that made it center for urban design for more than a generation. This museum truly had unique features that pushed form, material selection, and engineering ideas into new and exciting areas.  And as an engineer, a project that is liberating the boundaries on traditional design is a great mental challenge.  It would have been awesome to witness this building first hand and get an amazing extension of the Lake Michigan parkland at the same time.