Norman Kelley is an architecture and design firm comprised of Carrie Norman, formerly a senior design associate at SHoP Architects, and Thomas Kelley, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture. Their project for the Chicago Architecture Biennial, “Chicago, How Do You See?”, centers on architecture’s genesis in fine motor skills and representation. “The act of drawing, and the drawing itself, is the architecture for us,” says Norman, “and drawing by hand is still vital to how we see ourselves and how we think.”

We generally only draw in black and white, and that lends itself to the figure– ground diagram. It’s a democratized style of drawing—one that has a long history in architecture but can also be easily understood through the eyes of a child. The iterative process is important to us, too—and the connection of our drawings to works like The Manhattan Transcripts (1976–81) by Bernard Tschumi or Daniel Libeskind’s “Chamber Works” drawing set is important. When they are framed in a gallery they seem complete, but they represent a work in progress that appeals to us. We’re appropriating those techniques and trying to match them to the questions we are asking about the city now.

Our project for the biennial is a continuation of a project we did in Rome—drawing on the interior of McKim, Mead & White’s American Academy in Rome. In Chicago, we’re drawing on the outside of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge’s Chicago Cultural Center, which is different from the other drawings in our portfolio because it isn’t graphite or ink. Instead, it’s a white vinyl application on each of the existing windows, moderating how one looks into the building and out onto the city, that we drew in advance. The graphic presents an oversized survey of historical and not-so-historical window dressings, sourced from Chicago. We know we come at this from an academic point of view—line weight or “sensibilities” or projection—but we want to make that accessible to everyone.

When we were at Princeton together, labored drawings and analog techniques were very popular, and we’re still sympathetic. Our work is about the process of representation, independent of technique. That’s something we want to pass along to others. —As told to William Richards

Norman Kelley is one of 60+ official participants in the Chicago Architecture Biennial (Oct. 3, 2015–Jan. 3, 2016), sponsored in part by the AIA. Learn more at

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