bKL Architecture Announced as AIA Chicago 2020 Firm of the Year Award Recipient


bKL Architecture Announced as AIA Chicago 2020 Firm of the Year Award Recipient

On Tuesday, December 1, 2020, AIA Chicago announced that bKL Architecture has been selected as the recipient of the 2020 Firm of the Year Award. The AIA Chicago Firm of the Year Award, now in its 29th year, recognizes achievements and excellence in the body of work produced by a firm over a period of time, and the ongoing contributions of a firm to the advancement of the architectural profession. 

Founding Principal, Tom Kerwin, FAIA, responds to news of the award: “We are incredibly honored by our selection as the AIA Chicago Firm of the Year. I am very proud of the body of work designed and built in our very first ten years, and equally proud of the powerful team and community we’ve built within the firm. We are excited to begin the next decade of excellent, impactful design.” 

Founded by Kerwin in 2010, bKL now numbers more than 80 passionate designers and practitioners with expertise in a variety of markets and project types. In an exciting development this year, Kerwin has been joined by Danielle Tillman, AIA,  as Managing Principal, and Jon Gately, and Juan Robles, AIA, as Principals. Even through the significant challenges of the past decade—from recessions to pandemics—bKL has been marked by its ability to adapt, grow and thrive. 

This year’s jury, composed of past recipients and professionals in the field, was particularly impressed with the firm’s body of work. “The firm has produced an incredible portfolio in just 10 years,” commented one juror, highlighting that their range of projects including GEMS World Academy Chicago, Wolf Point West and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Library demonstrated a “commitment to design and to the community.” They were also impressed by bKL’s strong commitment to equity and the well-being of its staff: bKL’s current staff includes over 50% women and over 30% minorities. The team is composed of employees from 17 countries, speaking 16 different languages. “The firm has a commitment to creating a diverse environment. They are putting words into action by diversifying firm leadership,” commented one juror. Staff are supported through a robust package of benefits at no cost to employees and are encouraged to pursue licensure and accreditation through paid leave for exams and fee reimbursement.

The firm’s commitment to communities came to a head this year: from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, bKL architects and shop staff worked around the clock to design and 3D print PPE face shields for medical first responders. The initiative—which evolved to encompass a public fundraising effort and staff working 24/7 to produce the shields—delivered more than 5,000 units to health care workers and served over 60 hospitals and organizations across the United States. It was an undertaking that the jury called “super impressive.” 

Managing Principal, Danielle Tillman, says these initiatives further exemplify bKL’s bright future: “At bKL, our mantra is to ‘build.’ This is our everyday objective in our pursuit of excellence. Jon Gately, Juan Robles and I are proud to work alongside Tom, and to be part of a team that is ceaselessly looking to hone their craft for the benefit of communities and their built environments.” 

It is the firm’s attentiveness to their staff’s development, community needs, and diversity—alongside their commitment to design excellence—that propelled bKL Architecture to the forefront in the Chicago architecture community. You can celebrate their award at AIA Chicago’s Annual Meeting & Professional Excellence Awards event on December 15, 4:00-5:00 PM online. Information can be found at aiachicago.org.