To Top

Meet John Gay of JAQ Corp in North Kenwood

John Gay Photo 2 -John Gay with Jazz Artists. Left: Jazz Violinist Regina Carter. Center: Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Right: Saxophonist Tia Fuller

Today we’d like to introduce you to John Gay, NCARB, AIA, NOMA

John, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today?
At University of Michigan, where I earned my Master of Architecture degree, I decided I wanted to either be a decision maker or a firm owner. To be successful in either role, I knew the key was to develop my design philosophy.  My mentor Dr. James Chaffers correctly predicted it would become my firm’s signature.

Indeed, JAQ Corp, International, P.C. fuses jazz and architecture to challenge the status quo.  Our quest is to allow jazz to shape space. We analyze the rhythm structure of music selected by the client to suggest color and explore the song’s texture to inspire the tactile texture of our buildings’ surfaces.

I am a lifelong lover of jazz and have developed relationships with several artists over the years. Visit my website  to see photos and learn more. One of the artists I’ve worked with is composer Herbie Hancock whose The Song Goes On inspired a competition entry to re-develop the Northwestern Medicine Prentice Women’s Hospital.  Another piece – Mosaic Triad – by female Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, informed our concept design for the Obama Presidential Center a few years back in Chicago.

Today I maintain working relationships with artists, as well as developers and community leaders who are transforming and revitalizing our inner cities, a passion of mine.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Completing architectural licensing was difficult.  In part, it was timing. By the time I had the experience to fully understand the test, life happened – work, family, and children.  I persevered, and in 2016, I was honored to be named to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. The board helps set testing standards. The position allows me, as a mentor, to assist others in successfully navigating the architectural licensing exam.

Other challenges I face are larger firms attempting to steal projects and cherry pick our talent. It’s a problem throughout the industry – firms undercutting fees to win work.  Also, it can be difficult to find individuals who have the skill set and the energy to connect with our spirited team.  Once we find them, we work really hard to keep them.

Please tell us about JAQ Corp.
JAQ Corp is an architectural firm, established in 1996 with a unique design philosophy to deliver a rhythmic aesthetic utilizing jazz formal organization, syncopation, and improvisation.

Our team loves music and architecture, fitness and food, hard work and harder play. My first boss John Moutoussamy advised me to never specialize (too limiting), thus JAQ Corp has expertise in Aviation; Commercial; Light Medical; Higher Education; Historical Preservation; and Residential. All projects are designed incorporating Advanced Building Systems.

I developed my Project Management acumen (@ AESI) on high profile projects that include the Midway Airport expansion project in 2000; 71 S. Wacker Drive in 2003; and the McCormick Place West Expansion in 2005.  That’s $1.4 Billion in 5 years. Those lessons learned prepared me to lead historic preservation projects at Quinn Chapel, and Nichols Hall at the Music Institute of Chicago; at Daley and Truman colleges where we designed façade re-clads for higher education projects; as well as national and local corporate commercial designs for Enterprise Holdings and Next Level Health Partners respectively.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Playing sports, seeing the city, and family road trips.
I grew up in the Morgan Park neighborhood on the far South Side of Chicago. I was the third of four children born to a firefighter and an educator.

I played baseball through little league and pony league at Fernwood, and Shoop elementary schools.  Later, I discovered tennis, which taught me about the ebb and flow of life. If I made one good play it opened up the game to a whole new set of challenges.  Tennis taught me the art of socialization and competition. I knew if I could master the social context and remain competitive, I could permeate the world of architecture. At Lindblom Technical High School, I was ranked number 3 in the city and number 5 in the Midwest.  In college, I walked on to the University of Illinois team but resigned because of the demanding schedule of an architecture student.

After undergrad, I jumped into cycling and competed at the category 3 level in Illinois and later for the University of Michigan and finally in Vienna with Team Tyrolia. Baseball, tennis, and cycling gave me a competitive edge to succeed in the world of architecture.

Seeing the city was a big part of growing up, too. My mom was the official driver – in more ways than one. She drove us all around the city, and especially to the iconic Chicago museums. Mom also drove us to excellence in all our pursuits, from academics to sports, even music. She insisted we all take music lessons but my dad introduced us to jazz.  His role in exposing us to different parts of the city was by taking us to various fire houses and to Burnham Harbor where he docked his boat.  Also, he was a carpenter in his spare time and he took us to see his projects. My grandfather was a decorator with his own company and we hung out with him, too. So I understood color and construction – and Chicago – at an early age.

When we weren’t hanging out in Chicago, our family was on the road. Every summer, we took road trips to family reunions there were a lot of fun. The most fun trips were to Detroit and Connecticut, and I still have great relationships and many projects in those places.

Growing up and living in Chicago has been a tremendous experience. I can’t think of a better place to this day to simultaneously indulge my passions for jazz and architecture.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 27 N. Wacker Drive, Suite 430
  • Website:
  • Phone: 3127951911 x700
  • Email:
  • Twitter: @Jazz2Arch
  • Other: LinkedIn
Top left: Historic Quinn Chapel. Top right: Private residence inspired by Time to Change.
Center right: Nichols Hall, Music Institute of Chicago. Bottom: Obama Presidential Center concept inspired by Mosaic Triad

JAQ Corp Overview
Image Credit:
John Gay

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in