A Look Inside the Mind of an Architect


Craig Cernek

Craig Cernek

What does music have in common with an architect’s creative process? For Craig Cernek, the answer is easy.

Cernek, plays rock guitar when he’s not wearing his architect’s cap. The President of The Archi/Build Group says music, like architecture, has a symmetry and repetition of themes.

The repetition and balance he finds in music part of his inspiration for the table he designed which won a 2013 AIA Chicago Small Project Award. Cernek’s entry, “Equilibrium,” is essentially a cocktail table, but not just any cocktail table. Like a Weeble, you can’t really knock it over.

During a presentation last week at the AIA Chicago’s pop-up exhibit (“Not Everyone Needs a Skyscraper”) at 23 East Madison Street, Cernek talked about the creative process and how he conceived his unique design, with Zurich Esposito from AIA moderating the discussion.

Outside his office window, Cernek watches a tai chi master go through his motions and routines every morning. That was his “aha!” moment for “Equilibrium.”

“What he’s doing on one level, is transferred to the table,” Cernek said. “Other things inform the design, too. I’ve always been intrigued by friction and balance. It’s an equilibrium because one side is always winning over the other. That’s why it reminds me of music.”

Cernek’s finished product doesn’t really look like an ordinary cocktail table. For one thing, it sits on two large spoked wheels.

“I chose wheels as a starting point because it allows for movement and interaction,” he said. “For materials, I used steel and aluminum, and finished it at the I.I.T. millshop. I found the wheels commercially, but they were too thick, so I applied a belt sander to them to get a thinner profile.”

The finished product is simple and functional. To demonstrate it, Cernek pushed the table to one side and let go. The table immediately righted itself back to a full upright position.

“The fun part was to see it upright. That’s part of the pleasure you get from making something. I get a kind of euphoria when I create a design like this.”

Craig Cernek

Craig Cernek

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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