Like her contemporary designs, the architect Jackie Koo’s career path exhibits sharp turns and, so far, nice finishes. She’s the name behind The Wit, the glassy new “urban destination” hotel with a blunt, lightning-bolt profile that has brought new energy to the North Loop.

Sitting on a tight lot at State and Lake streets, the hotel features a compact, eccentric layout with three restaurants, 298 slick guest rooms, and a lobby that defies gravity.

The hotel has put Koo, 45, on Chicago’s architectural map. A philosophy major at the University of Chicago, Koo went on to study with Stanley Tigerman and Peter Eisenman, later apprenticing with Richard Meier in New York. “But I didn’t want to do my first building when I was 60,” she says, referring to her prospects to build something herself in New York. So she returned to Chicago, now, as always, a mecca for young architects. She got work with DeStefano and Partners, where she rose to senior associate, headed project teams, and learned the nuts and bolts of construction. She had just gone out on her own in 2005 when a former client called: He had started planning for The Wit.

In the intervening years, Koo has blended the practical side of architecture, which gets her jobs, with her strength in philosophy and architectural theory, which gives her conviction. “What I learned in school is that you do the research, you understand the rules, then you go with your gut,” she says, hoping that The Wit’s design will soon be known for the latter.


Photography: Nathan Kirkman