Next Progressives: Via Chicago Architects + Diseñadores
Firm name: Via Chicago Architects + Diseñadores
Firm leadership: Cristina Gallo McCausland, AIA, and Marty Sandberg, AIA
Location: Chicago and Panama City
Year founded: 2015
Education: Gallo McCausland: University of Notre Dame, B.Arch., Roosevelt University, M.S. in real estate; Sandberg: University of Notre Dame, B.Arch
Firm size: Six
Experience: Gallo McCausland: FitzGerald Associates Architects, ASARQ; Sandberg: Antunovich Associates, Norsman Architects
How founders met: Marty made one of his legendary grilled cheeses for Cristina at Café Poche, beneath the Bond Hall auditorium at Notre Dame.
Firm mission: Raising the bar of arquitectura cotidiana.
First commission: Portales is a 300-year-old building at the gateway to Casco Antiguo—Panama City’s colorful and eclectic colonial quarter. We completely restored the exterior façades—including the 1-meter-thick calicanto walls—and carefully inserted a new steel structure with 12 apartments beyond. A team of local artisans was able to reconstruct the ornate metal railings based on fragments we salvaged from a fire, and we worked with each of the residents to craft custom concrete tile for their living space. The corner café is now run by one of Panama’s most beloved coffee producers, and the first thing residents and visitors see when they enter the neighborhood is a vibrant, teal-tinged landmark where haphazard scaffolding blocked a sidewalk for the previous five years. The best way to guarantee the preservation of great buildings isn’t by freezing them in time—it’s by ensuring they remain relevant and loved for the next 100 years.
Defining project and why: We’re in the midst of helping Square Roots build out a growing network of hydroponic farms across the U.S. Every day is incredibly fast-paced while we work with the firm’s tech and farming engineers to translate cutting-edge cultivation concepts into a physical building supplying fresh, reliable, ultra-local food to urban markets.
Another important project: Stitch—325 square feet of complex design puzzles, hair-pulling frustration, and, eventually, a delightful triangular home. It was originally a hot-dog stand, wedged in front of a brick three-flat that was lifted and rolled to the back of the lot when a diagonal avenue was built through Chicago’s West Town in the 1920s. Existing and nonconforming in every possible way, as far as the city of Chicago was concerned. It’s the smallest thing we’ve ever worked on, but without fail is the first project everyone asks us about. They all know the “little blue building” on Ogden Street.
How did you come up with your firm name? We savor the journey—both literally and metaphorically. It takes us north, south, occasionally in circles, but always by way of Chicago.
How would you describe the personality of your practice? Freehand Spanglish.
Design tool of choice: Field Notes sketchbooks, or the paper table cloth at an out-of-town restaurant.
Special item in your studio space: The conference table is made from heavy timbers salvaged during the renovation and build-out of Marz Community Brewing in Chicago—one of our first projects.
Design aggravation: Senseless demolition of vintage brick two-flats. It’s baffling how many people are willing to throw away a solid building shell just to construct a cheap new home that’s 3 feet wider. There’s so much to be gained from creative design and adaptive reuse of our vernacular architectural heritage.
Skills you hope to master: Architect-as-developer
Biggest career leap: Hiring our first full-time employee … in spring 2020. It was a big risk at an uncertain time, but we realized the only way to grow was putting more hours back into our day. Good projects don’t just fall into your lap—you have to put in the effort, constantly make new connections, and intentionally push open doors that you’re interested in.
Biggest challenge in running a successful practice: Predicting the future.
Ambitions for the firm in the coming five years: Surround ourselves with people smarter than we are.
This article appeared in ARCHITECT’s Nov/Dec 2022 issue. This article has been updated.
Read more about emerging firms: Delma Palma wants to do away with the “idea that one person behind a desk can best understand how to design for a community of users.” | Studio J. Jih is interested in “figure—both in the sense of architectural form and the bodies that choreograph and inhabit it.” | IUA is aiming to “produce architecture congruent to the present era” by giving equal weight to architectural object, user, and context.