Elias Vavaroutsos, AIA, is the Design Principal with Goettsch Partners in Chicago.

Recently, BE sat down to talk to him about his career.


Building Envelope: How many years do you have in the profession?

Vavaroutsos: 20 years.

Building Envelope: What is your work history in this field?


  • Perkins & Will 1994-1999, Designer
  • OWPP (Cannon Design) 1999-2007, Design Leader
  • SOM 2007-2009, Studio Head (Design)
  • Goettsch Partners 2010-Present, Design Principal
  • College of DuPage 1999-Present, Adjunct Faculty

Building Envelope: Where did you go to school?


  • University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 1992 BSAS
  • University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 1994 MArch

Building Envelope: Did you have a specialization?

Vavaroutsos: I am a design leader responsible for the conception, evolution and execution of architectural projects. I am a generalist in terms of building types, with experience ranging from office buildings and retail, to healthcare, education and other institutional sectors.

Building Envelope: Do you approach architecture from an artistic or functional starting point? Are the two concepts exclusive?

Vavaroutsos: Both are essential and must be balanced, but I begin with ideas related to the intended experience of the place.

Building Envelope: What projects, other than your own work, do you find inspiring?

Vavaroutsos: Places that represent a fusion of architecture, landscape, materiality and place; for example, the Alhambra, Machu Picchu and Chaco Canyon. I also find inspiration in the writings of Borges and Pallasmaa, as well as the buildings of architects like Ferrater, Kahn, Scarpa, Aalto and Zumthor.

Building Envelope: How many buildings have you designed?

Vavaroutsos: Around 50.

Building Envelope: If you had to choose one to represent your work, what project would you choose?

Vavaroutsos: Very difficult to say, as most have both successes and missed opportunities. Perhaps the 700m tower among the un-built, Al Hilal and the Cancer Pavilion among the built.

Building Envelope: What are your guiding principles when designing a structure?

Vavaroutsos: I begin with the intent of understanding and concentrating the Genus Loci, or spirit of a place. I try to create meaningful places with a focus on the phenomenological and experiential qualities that people encounter.

Building Envelope: If you could have any building to redesign—anywhere in the world—which would you like to address?

Vavaroutsos: Probably something from earlier on in my own career.

Building Envelope: What types of products interest you?

Vavaroutsos: Elemental materials; stone and wood, ornamental metals.

Building Envelope: What types of products in the wall and ceiling industry really interest you?

Vavaroutsos: Sustainable materials of abstract beauty.