I Look Up Architect Feature Series: Peter Exley

The Look Up Film Challenge has brought to life stories of architecture and impact from a wide array of perspectives. We would like to shed light on even more of these inspiring individuals making a positive impact on our cities, lives and communities. To highlight these architects and their unique visions, we have interviewed our six talented Look Up Film Challenge Judges with an expertise in architecture.

Peter Exley FAIA is an architect, designer and advocate for interactive public environments, committed to construction of new paradigms in pedagogy, play, public space and participatory experience. He has mostly been there ever since, and founded Architecture Is Fun on April Fools’ Day 1994. He is a Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the co-host of PechaKucha Night Chicago, 2015 President of the Penn Club of Chicago, winner of the 2012 Benjamin Moore HUE Award, was the 2013 President of AIA Chicago and serves on the national Strategic Council of the American Institute of Architects.

Read about Peter’s thoughts on the Film Challenge, architecture, and his work as an architect and designer.

Q: What inspires you about the Look Up Film Challenge?

The Look Up Film Challenge showcases real architects showing their own projects or their own communities through their eyes and visions. I was particularly inspired by the range of perspective- from two students walking the High Line volunteering their thoughts on design and why architecture makes a difference in the lives of all of us, to the poetry of a young woman looking up to her city and the buildings that define it. Seeing these architects with completed and iconic projects, as well as the films of architects in their studios and neighborhoods with their clients and projects paints a real and revealing picture of the range of invention and creativity that AIA architects contribute to healthy, vibrant communities.

RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE OAK LAWN Ronald McDonald House, Oak Lawn, IL (with Constantine Vasilios Associates) © Doug Snower Photography

Ronald McDonald House, Oak Lawn, IL (with Constantine Vasilios Associates) © Doug Snower Photography


Q: How do you see I Look Up influencing perceptions of architects and architecture?

There’s a humanity and accessibility to each of the films- among the collection there’s a potential client, homeowner, or member of the public who will see that a particular project is just right for them and understand why an architect made it better. For each of us who watch the films as an architecture professional, we will add to the conversations, process or execution of the successful places and spaces in the films. 

Frost Art Museum at FIU, Miami

Frost Art Museum at FIU, Miami

Q: What was the most impactful project that you have worked on recently, and how did the experience alter the way you think about architecture?

We recently had the opportunity to revisit one of our projects that had been devastated by an unforeseen calamity (the Dupage Children’s Museum, which won an AIA Chicago Design Excellence Award in 2002). With the support and collaboration of client, contractors and city, architecture and design became the tool that helped this museum recover from the flood that destroyed its heart and home.   

Being brought back to reinvent this children’s museum- a hub in its community- confirmed the important role we’d had in the original vision. It’s not often that an architect gets to do a project twice. It’s exciting to continue relationships with the people who live, work and play in our projects- and affirming that they trust in the value that good architecture. For us, listening to clients and involving them intimately in the design of their projects is the most rewarding part of our work.


DuPage Children’s Museum © Doug Snower Photography

DuPage Children’s Museum © Doug Snower Photography

Q: What was your vision for Architecture Is Fun, and how do you see it evolving in the future? From your perspective, what is the importance of creating interactive public spaces?

Architecture Is Fun is dedicated to creating great places for play, learning and public space. For us it’s about making places and spaces that delight and inspire, that are intuitive and irresistible, that feel natural and accessible and to do it with beauty, wit and a sense of humor. Often, our work is seen as in the domain of childhood- though we’ve applied our research and philosophy in libraries, art museums, homes and universities, to name a few. We see our work as universally applicable. We see interactivity as an easy way [for us] to bring joy and meaning to everyday places, and to instigate valuable experiences and wonderful memories for the people that use them.

Young At Art Museum, Davie, FL  © Doug Snower Photography

Young At Art Museum, Davie, FL © Doug Snower Photography