Bestowed almost continuously since 1907, the yearly Gold Medal is the highest honour that the AIA bestows on architects for their contributions to the field.
Barney – who is the second woman to win the award solely and fourth in total – was awarded the medal for her achievements as a designer and an educator.
"Barney is being recognized for her pursuit of architecture that betters the daily life of all who interact with it through nearly five decades of work," explained the AIA.
"An unrivaled architect for the people, Barney exudes design excellence, social responsibility, and generosity."
"Her pioneering approach and ethics are clear examples of the highest aspirations of architecture," it continued.
Educated at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Barney joined the Peace Corps where she helped to build up the Costa Rica National Park Service before returning to Chicago in 1981 to found her studio – Ross Barney Architects.
An early major commission included the redesign of the Oklahoma City Federal Building after the deadly Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, creating a U-shaped building that indicated "hope in the face of overwhelming tragedy".
Barney is also known for her extensive work rejuvenating the Chicago River waterfront by taking the lead on a riverwalk project that redefined a 1.25-mile (2 kilometre) section along the waterway in the heart of Chicago.
"The park references the repurposed infrastructure that defines it in an effort to create discrete rooms between the bridges that span the river," said the AIA.
"Featuring kayak tours, a wine bar, veterans memorial, and countless public programs, the project has brought positive energy to Chicago’s urban realm and stands as a model for cities rethinking their water resources."
For more than 30 years, she has been an educator at the Illinois Institute of Technology in her hometown, teaching a variety of courses from transportation to urban development and manufacturing.
Barney's other projects include a rail station in Chicago wrapped in a perforated tube as well a McDonald's restaurant that is clad in timber and has an awning propped by steel stilts.
Her studio's more recent projects include a colourful public park in Rogers, Arkansas.