The House that JAQ Built—Fusing Architecture and Jazz


School of Architecture alumnus John M. Gay (BSAS ’88) was invited backstage when he posed the following question to a well-renown musician: “Can Jazz shape space?” Gay has spent the better part of his career proving that indeed it can. In 1996 he founded national/technical boutique design studio, JAQ Corp. Based in historic Bronzeville USA, on the southside of Chicago, JAQ Corp. has been fusing art and engineering for more than 25 years. Gay and his team listen to learn the rhythm of each client, using music to better understand their clients’ wishes and inform the design process. Inspired by the improvisation, form, and syncopation of jazz, and utilizing music selected by the client, the firm delivers a rhythmic aesthetic to the spaces they shape. Through hard work, creativity and persistence, JAQ Corp. has expanded nationwide, recruiting talent in six states amid a global pandemic. JAQ uses rhythm and sustainability to create spaces that evoke feelings, ultimately delivering “biophilic, sustainable rhythmic architectonic compositions.”

John Gay’s passion for architectural design goes beyond his firm as he regularly mentors students interested in the field of architecture. He taught as an adjunct professor in the Illinois School of Architecture from 1997-98, during which time he established the NOMA Symposium. Gay also taught at Archeworks and Columbia College in Chicago. In 2016, Gay was named to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). The position has allowed him to mentor others in successfully navigating the architectural licensing exam. Gay established the JAQ’D Architecture Scholarship Fund in 2022 to support graduate students within the Illinois School of Architecture with an interest or design concentration in either sustainability, parametric design, rhythmic architecture, or biophilic design. Preference for this scholarship will be given to students from underrepresented groups who will diversify the student body at the Illinois School of Architecture.

John M. Gay (BSAS ’88)
“My journey started at Illinois as a Chemical Engineering student. If Dean Moyer didn’t give me a shot, if Hub White didn’t help, if Art Kaha didn’t care, and if Burgeson didn’t believe in me – there’d be no JAQ. Many are called and fewer finish. It is incumbent on me to ensure that other BIPOC Architectural Degree Candidates see and know that if I made it, they can too.”
John M. Gay (BSAS ’88)


Most recently, the JAQ’D Scholarship was awarded to its inaugural graduate student recipient Raissa Gonzalez Bejarano. For her second-semester studio travel, Bejarano had the opportunity to travel to Kyoto, Japan, to work on a Museum of Architectural Heritage project. The goal was to incorporate a modern design aesthetic while still showcasing traditional Japanese culture. Bejarano is expected to graduate with a Master of Architecture in 2024.

JAQ Corp has expanded to six states and has led such projects as the Obama Presidential Library Site Concept for CSU in Chicago, the historical preservation of the James Scott Memorial Fountain in Detroit, and the Midway Airport Expansion. The concept design for the Obama Presidential Library was informed by the piece Mosaic Triad by drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. The rhythmic structure of a music composition may suggest color, while a song’s texture may influence the tactile texture of a building’s surface. The result is an artistically designed space that fuses architecture and music. Gay has a unique way of infusing sustainability through his designs of both new and historic projects.

John Gay grew up in the beautiful Morgan Park neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The JAQ Studio is situated a bit north in the historic Bronzeville district. Outside of architecture and jazz, John Gay enjoys family, cycling, and custom furniture design. He is an active member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and is NCARB certified. He has served on the Illinois Environmental Council Education Board and joined the Urban Land Institute’s Chicago Decarbonation Task Force and the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) in 2023.

The Illinois School of Architecture is incredibly grateful for passionate alumni like John M. Gay. It is because of corporate partners such as JAQ Corp that the school can continue to attract and retain the best students. If you’d like to learn more about how you can support students through a named scholarship or are interested in other giving initiatives, please contact Associate Director of Advancement Paula Santiago.

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