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The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design, 3rd Place

Wrap Architecture for Bronzeville Artist Lofts

The old Borden’s dairy was a wreck, targeted by the city for demolition. But Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) saw instead another anchor for the revitalization of Bronzeville’s once-throbbing 47th Street commercial and cultural corridor.

Cheryl Noel and Ravi Ricker of Wrap Architecture saw it too, along with the fact that a surprisingly modern — for 1906 — cable suspension system would allow removal of first-floor partition walls, yielding an expansive and dramatic art expo space. The 16 work-live lofts on the upper two floors couldn’t help but be dramatic — not after a new sprinkler system allowed for exposure of muscular diagonal timber beams.

But it took some imagination. Much of the roof had collapsed and floors were soggy with a goo restoration architects jokingly call “urban mulch.” Several design ideas flowed from a series of community and artists’ charrettes: generous but energy-efficient windows throughout; ground floor “flex” and storage space available to resident artists; open live-work floor plans; chalkboard walls; benches made of reclaimed wood; wide corridors and common spaces decorated by tenant artists; an open-air deck big enough for summertime receptions.

“It was a matter of expressing the nature of the building,” says Noel. “It was a lovely but unnoticed structure ... the kind being lost across the city every day.”

Little wonder there were 200 applications for BAL’s six affordable-rent lofts. Or why Andre and Frances Guichard, whose Gallery Guichard anchors the first floor, call it “our ideal place for diverse people and cultures to connect.”