Community development in design was the topic at hand Wednesday at the 19th Richard H. Driehaus Foundation’s Community Neighborhood Development Awards. The award was established in 1995 by Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago (LISC).
UrbanWorks received first place for La Casa Student Housing. A dormitory for 100 students in Pilsen, La Casa responds to the neighborhood’s growing vibrancy, as well as its working-class roots — created at the behest of The Resurrection Project, La Casa is affordable housing for neighborhood students attending college, many of them the first in their families to do so.
Despite once again turning out a crowd of supporters who contributed hours of impassioned testimony, many preservationists were unsurprised by an outcome that they chalked up to political determinism.
The Thompson Center is an easy target. Most Chicagoans only know it as that Po-Mo Behemoth where we transfer between L lines and occasionally visit the DMV in the basement food court, perhaps the only location in America where you can get a slice of Sbarro and a new driver’s license. It’s a beast of a building—so bad, it’s almost good—and has been plagued with problem after problem, most recently the removal of the granite panels along the plaza. Tackling its so obviously deferred maintenance and adapting it for future use would be no small task. That’s why, according to the Sun-Times, the president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and a major labor chief have proposed building a casino in the lower level and first floor of the building.
When we think of downtown casinos, we think of Detroit. Look, Eavesdrop loves Detroit and is rooting for its revival on a daily basis, but Chicago doesn’t want to be using Detroit as its urban development role model. If this nutty scheme comes to fruition, there would be a casino in a building located across from City Hall, which also houses hundreds of state government employees. They better get ready to beef up their Employee Assistance Program, as the state might have a few more gambling addicts on their payroll.
Could that hulking behemoth, Chicago’s Main Post Office, see new life at last? According to the Sun-Times’ David Roeder, developer Bill Davies is betting on it, and he has brought Antunovich Associates to the table. If talk of a downtown casino has any merit, the Post Office could be the right place for it.
The massive 1921 building (expanded in 1932) comprises 2.5 million square feet downtown, looming over Congress Parkway. Davies’ fanciful plans for the facility have grabbed headlines since 2009, when the US Postal Service first put it on the auction block. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is still pushing the state legislature for a casino license, touting the potential revenue as a much-needed influx for school construction and repairs.
Single Room Occupancy hotels are a dying breed in Chicago. Notoriously undermanaged and generally unpopular among immediate neighbors, the majority of these base-service dwellings have been condemned or rehabbed into other residential uses over the past decade.
The fate of the Chateau Hotel, one of the last SRO hotels on Chicago’s North Side, looks to be leaning toward the latter.
After a few administrative hurdles and several packed community meetings that aired downtown residents’ concerns, Chicago’s Wolf Point is poised to turn perhaps the most prominently underdeveloped piece of land in Chicago into a billion-dollar suite of skyscrapers along the Chicago River.
The University of Illinois and the state are pushing a plan to build on Chicago’s growing tech sector, calling for support from major institutions in the area to help support a tech lab in downtown Chicago.
Details are hazy now, but Crain’s is reporting the $100 million-per-year operation would draw support from Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, and other regional engines of high-tech knowledge, as well as the corporate community, for a facility or campus in the heart of the city.
Google and Motorola recently made high-profile decisions to expand operations in Chicago, and the Department of Energy named Argonne National Laboratory its national hub for battery research and technology development.
What this means for the local design community is unclear just yet, but as downtown and West Loop construction picks up it is clear that some developers are banking on growing demand.
Chicago Magazine’s Elly Fishman has an interesting story on Lands’ End founder Gary Comer’s efforts to save his old neighborhood. Pocket Town, a portion of Greater Grand Crossing on the Far South Side, suffered a 25 percent unemployment rate and longstanding poverty when septuagenarian Gary Comer popped into his alma mater Paul Revere Elementary School. Shortly after he began writing checks to the principal for improvements to the aging red brick building. That philanthropy snowballed into millions of dollars each year for Revere and the neighborhood. In 2010, Gary Comer College Prep moved into a John Ronan-designed school that has garnered praise from the design community.
The top brass in the field of design have long supported preserving Chicago’s Old Prentice Women’s Hospital. Now proposals to save the embattled Bertrand Goldberg building may have economics on their side, too, according to a new report commissioned by advocates who hope to convince owner Northwestern University not to demolish the four-pronged curvilinear tower.
The University of Chicago’s ongoing development is a balancing act of preserving its collegiate gothic badge of architectural honor and making bold contemporary bounds ahead. One project that maintains that equilibrium with grace is Ann Beha Architect’s conversion of the University’s old Theological Seminary into a new economics building.
The area surrounding the site at 58th and University is on the preservation watch list, so the new steel-and-glass research pavilion along Woodlawn Avenue is likely to ruffle a few feathers. But most of the work treads lightly on the site. Glass infill will create a new entryway between the seminary building’s two main wings.
While historic facades remain throughout much of the building, designers hope a new staircase will improve vertical circulation. And a 90-seat classroom anchors an expansion below grade that improves access to existing space, drawing in light from openings to a new loggia above. Placed atop a terra cotta base, the modern addition jives tastefully with the former seminary.