May 18, 2017 by Aaron McCauley, Anna Anklin, Ashlan Jones, Black Spectacles, Caleb R. Munson, Cameron Kayne, Carlos Sotelo, Claire Natola, Clayton R. Daher, Elizabeth Seidel, Gabrielle Herbosa, Jenn Elder, Jenny Nguyen, Jeremy Gentile, Kimberly Tuttle, Marcos Cruz Ortiz, Mariah Tobin, Morgan Stahl, Natalie Neumann, NCARB, Nick Serfass, Rachel Law, Sarah Curry, Sarah Wahlgren

“What’s a Snafoo? …asking for a friend” -Rachel Wiesbrock. Snafoo was the annual AIAS Midwest Quad Conference, hosted this year in Chicago by the AIAS Chapter at the Illinois Institute of Technology; it was the gathering of around 200 Midwestern Students, 30 local Volunteers and 40+ Professionals.

Snafoo is deeper than just that elephant sticker you’ve seen plastered around, it was a discussion of the current state of architecture, a look at past and present triumphs and failures.  Snafoo addressed the ‘Elephant in the Room’ with such ideas as The word design has become confused with popular fashion and We design and build permanent things for an ephemeral society. The conference was designed to expose attendees to a wide array of architectural ideas and processes but also to showcase all the edges of Chicago; Snafoo was not just a tourist check list of sights to see.

Cities are busy places where people come together to make and experience culture. Alongside our programming attendees were able to see and take part in everything that makes Chicago a global destination, including the thrill of witnessing Chicago’s river dyed green during the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations.


On Friday attendees embarked on tours that pushed them beyond Chicago’s Loop and into nine tours that each focused on one of the neighborhoods that make up the fabric of the city. They traversed neighborhoods such as Pilsen, Chinatown, Gold Coast, Hyde Park, West Town, and Wicker Park. All the tours culminated on IIT’s Mies van der Rohe designed campus for a short tour and proceeded to Crown Hall for the Opening General Session. The General Session included an inspiring Keynote Discussion on the future of the profession between three local emerging architects: Nootan Bharani, Chris-AnnMarie Spencer, and Vladimir Radutny. After this, attendees had the choice to move on to either a Bar Crawl (for those of age), a Pizza Crawl, or to their beds to rest up for the day ahead.

Saturday began with a Keynote Presentation by esteemed local Architect Carol Ross Barney on her office’s recently completed Chicago Riverwalk project. She opened the presentation addressing one of the key tenets of the conference with the words: “Design is not a noun, it is not fashion. Design: it is a process that is a right for all, not a privilege for the few.” After the Keynote, attendees then moved on to a series of 10 curated tracks that focused on different facets of the profession, including; Social Impact Design, Small Practice, Architect as Developer, and the Preservation of Culture in a Global City. The day ended with an exciting Beaux Arts Ball held under the 124-year-old Tiffany Stained-Glass Dome of the Chicago Cultural Center.

The conference closed out on Sunday with a COP Meeting hosted by AIA Chicago and with tours of some recent projects around the city such as the Spertus Institute, the Riverwalk, and Northerly Island.


Below are a few words from our volunteers about their experience during the conference:

“Leading a group of people with similar interests through my hometown was absolutely amazing. There was many questions asked, jokes passed around, and not only did we learn from each other, but we all became friends!” – Julia Mosqueda

“It was incredible to be able to plan a conference in our home city with a group of students who were passionate in providing quality content to our attendees. All of the work the volunteers put in shined bright during the conference.” -Taylor Schaub

“These conferences are always such a fantastic way to be able to both network and connect with students from all over the country. I definitely feel like they enable us to become closer as an AIAS Family and grow as the future leaders of our generation. Seeing the leaders both young and old of our chapter put this together with so much passion really brings joy to what is probably my last AIAS Conference. -Joseph Chavero


Hosting the conference was a challenging and rewarding experience for our Chapter and their Members. We hope all that attended were inspired to discover and make architecture that is larger than themselves, that is not different for the sake of being different, that places value on the cultures that make up the cities we live in, and most of all to design places that people want to live in…don’t be a Snafoo.