‘There’s this big, fabulous world out there’

Architects Jon Pickard and William Chilton design soaring towers of glass and steel — but their feet are firmly on the ground

pickardchilton_portraitFrom the heart of the Midwest to exotic cities in the Middle East, two Iowa State University alumni have made their marks on the world’s skyline. Jon Pickard and William Chilton, classmates and 1976 architecture graduates, hold an impressive list of accomplishments. Among these are some of the world’s most widely recognized buildings such as the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the World Financial Center in New York City, and 300 North LaSalle in Chicago.

Being friends and competitors during their time at Iowa State, neither imagined he would be working professionally with the other. In fact, the two never even worked together while at Iowa State. It was becoming part of the College of Design Advisory Council and a conversation at the Memorial Union that brought these two together – after 18 years without communication – to form the architectural firm of Pickard Chilton.

Both Pickard and Chilton credit the faculty and the education they received from Iowa State as the building blocks to their success. “The education piece in terms of what we learned as part of the Department of Architecture was terrific. The aspects of rigor and quality of faculty was coupled with a terrific experience on campus,” Chilton said.

“The faculty recalibrated my whole world view. I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and I could barely see the perimeter of the state. That was my little world, and back then the faculty had this surprisingly global outlook. We had this faculty that would say there’s this big, fabulous world out there. Go discover it. That was huge to me,” Pickard said.

Involvement on campus was a focus of Pickard and Chilton during their tenure at Iowa State. “I immensely enjoyed campus life,” Pickard said. “My primary focus at Iowa State was VEISHEA. I helped to design and manage the production of floats and the Homecoming displays for my fraternity. I didn’t realize at the time what a powerful learning experience that was. You were actually learning how to lead people while motivating and inspiring them to achieve a big objective. I would argue that it was directly relevant to what we do now leading Pickard Chilton.”

Chilton has a unique tie to campus that goes beyond his education and involvement. He was the assistant construction supervisor for the College of Design building.

The duo’s most recent addition to its list of accomplishments isn’t a building, but instead something Pickard and Chilton say that they see as an investment in the future: an endowed faculty position in the College of Design.

“This institution played a critical role in our lives and careers. It would be wrong if we didn’t give back,” Pickard said.

It goes without saying that Iowa State holds a special place in the hearts of both Jon Pickard and William Chilton.

Pickard said, “I came up as this naïve kid from Des Moines, and Iowa State helped create in me the expectation that one had the ability to achieve important things around the world. It was a new understanding; a recalibration of potential. My first project was the headquarters for American Express and Merrill Lynch, then Kingdom Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabiathe Norwest Headquarters in Minneapolis, and then the world’s tallest buildings in Kuala Lumpur. And now Bill and I are leading projects across the globe. This wouldn’t have happened without Iowa State.”

Visit the Pickard Chilton website at

A select list of Pickard Chilton projects
• 300 North LaSalle – Chicago, Ill.
• 1180 Peachtree – Atlanta, Ga.
• CalPERS Headquarters Complex – Sacramento, Calif.
• Devon World Headquarters – Oklahoma City, Okla.
• Wells Fargo Headquarters – Des Moines, Iowa
• The Pinnacle – Atlanta, Ga.
• Four Seasons Place – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
• BG Group Place – Houston, Texas
• ConocoPhillips West Campus – Houston, Texas
• Eaton World Headquarters – Beachwood, Ohio
• Eighth Avenue Place – Calgary, Alberta, Canada
• Orville L. Freeman Building – St. Paul, Minn.
• The Atrium – Dubai, United Arab Emirates
• EPA Headquarters – Arlington, Va.

Key individual projects
• Petronas Towers – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
(design architect Cesar Pelli & Associates; Jon Pickard, senior associate and design collaborator)
• World Financial Center – New York, N.Y.
(same as above)
• Kingdom Centre – Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
(design architect Ellerbe Becket; William Chilton, principal)

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