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The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design - First Place

DesignBridge Ltd. for Casa Queretaro

Is it possible to transform a desolate, distressed industrial brownfield site adjacent to one of Chicago’s busiest railroad lines into a community asset – one that captures the vitality of the neighborhood and embodies the dreams of its residents?

Thanks to DesignBridge Ltd. and The Resurrection Project (TRP), a community development organization, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Casa Queretaro (Casa Q), a new model for affordable housing within the Pilsen neighborhood at 17th Street and Damen Avenue, is proof that persistence and partnership pay off.

After 20 years of community planning to get feedback on issues ranging from the proposed design to accessibility, lighting and safety, Casa Q is transforming the community. With 45 one-, two- and three-bedroom mixed-income rental apartments, including one-third reserved for Chicago Housing Authority residents, the development is LEED Platinum Certified and is preserving affordable housing for families, veterans and victims of domestic violence in one of the city’s fastest gentrifying neighborhoods.

The architects had to design the largest number of affordable apartments allowed by zoning within an awkward triangular site stuck between a busy street and a large railroad yard. Their solution was to create a single, ribbon-shaped building, ranging from two to four stories, organized to embrace a common landscaped courtyard. It artfully angles away from the rail line to orient the apartments back toward the neighborhood. The result is “an urban oasis” – a new open space that promotes storm water management and maximizes sunlight. The lush courtyard also helps minimize noise from traffic and the railroad line while encouraging residents to interact with one another.

Some additional features and amenities of Casa Q include a custom mural with a silhouette of the famous aqueduct in Quere´taro over a mosaic graphic of Mexican tiles, a ground floor community room for neighborhood events and meetings and additional space for a community garden. The design also installed streetlights under a nearby viaduct, making residents and neighbors feel safer and encouraging them to patronize local businesses.

Gabriel Ignacio Dziekiewicz, Principal of Design at DesignBridge said he hoped Casa Q would become “a new face to the Pilsen neighborhood.” It became much more.

“Thanks to our partnership with DesignBridge, TRP was able to realize its vision of matching a high-quality life experience with a superior quality building,” said Raul Raymundo, TRP’s Chief Executive Officer. “At a time when Pilsen is challenged by gentrification, Casa Q is a beacon of hope for low-to-moderate income residents who deserve a safe place to call home while they work toward a brighter future.”