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The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design 1st Place

Wheeler Kearns Architects for Lakeview Pantry

Eric Young Smith

When the Lakeview Pantry outgrew the one-story building they had rented since 1970 and decided to purchase their own building, they viewed the move as a unique opportunity. As an organization that distributes 1.3 million meals and serves 7,000 households, could they use architecture to enhance their clients’ experience?

The answer is a resounding yes when judged by the space created for them by Wheeler Kearns Architects. While ample in space, in fact twice the size of its previous home, the Pantry’s new 7,500-square-foot masonry building needed work. What could have been challenging, intrigued Wheeler Kearns project architect Daniel Wicke, who both studied the workflow and procedures at the Pantry’s original site and had a deep understanding of the need for the Pantry to be both efficient and uplifting.

Entering the two-story, 1910 era building that lies in the shadow of the Red Line’s Sheridan Road station, one is immediately struck with a sense of light and space, created by a soaring ceiling, skylights, blond-hued furniture and polished concrete floors. The wall of brilliant and fragrant cut flowers immediately inside the front door adds beauty and speaks of the respect and care that every client is given.

Beyond the flowers is a long counter, running nearly the length of the building, which displays an attractive variety of fresh foods. Opposite is a waiting area, flooded with natural light. A single staff member or volunteer serves each client as they indicate the food items they’d like.

“Many nonprofits allocate resources to their mission,” said Wicke, “and facilities get neglected. What we tried to do here is think about the impact that space and architecture can have on someone’s experience. It furthers the mission in a broader way.”

Clients aren’t the only beneficiaries of the new space. Staff and volunteers love it, too.

“There were people who didn’t want this,” said 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman. “But now they think this is a brand new well designed grocery store. Architecture means everything.”