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Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence, 1st Place: Wheeler Kearns Architects, for Southwest Women Working Together

Women who have lived with domestic violence have had their personal safety and that of their children threatened repeatedly. When they gather the courage to leave, finding a safe place is of utmost importance to them. For almost 30 years, Southwest Women Working Together (SWWT) has provided that safe space and it is their newly created space that this year has won First Place in the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Awards for Architectural Excellence in Community Design.

Located near 69th and Western in West Englewood, the SWWT headquarters involves both adaptive reuse of an abandoned funeral home and new construction of an adjoining structure. Both elements are arranged around an enclosed private garden, which provides a tranquil, safe space to help residents as they rebuild their lives.

The rehabbed portion of the building provides counseling areas for residents and office space for staff and volunteers. Its main entry to the street is secure and discreet, but the inner rooms are flooded with light from huge windows that fill the top half of the walls. Large opaque window panels also add light without revealing the inside of the building.

Connected to this area by a glass passageway, the new building contains large communal rooms for job training classes and computer labs, and a multi-use community room that faces the enclosed garden. This room has floor-to-ceiling windows, providing a kind of frame for the open safety that the beautifully landscaped garden represents.

The development – which makes SWWT services more accessible to women throughout the Southwest Side – was financed and managed by the Illinois Facilities Fund with additional support coming from the City of Chicago and State of Illinois.