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

Landon Bone Baker Architects for Chicago Center for Arts and Technology

It was a tall order: Take a 25,000-square-foot industrial site in the Illinois Medical District and turn it into a multi-purpose space where residents from under-resourced neighborhoods would be inspired to create, dream and push the boundaries of human possibility.

The Chicago Center for Arts and Technology (CHICAT) aims to uplift people in the North Lawndale, Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods. It is a state-of-the-art community center dedicated to offering arts and technology programs for students and vocational training for adults. An important part of CHICAT’s educational commitment is to reach and teach individuals who face barriers to academic achievement or sustained employment. With such a bold mission, no ordinary facility would do.

By all accounts, Landon Bone Baker succeeded. Today, the former factory – a once-abandoned, four-story masonry building – has been adapted and turned into a community center. Its airy, open and colorful setting features a cultural performance space, an art gallery, a teaching kitchen, computer labs, art studios and a landscaped courtyard. Besides attracting students and adults, its design and amenities have made it a major new destination for the entire Near West Side.

The architects revealed and restored the original building’s materials. Bright bursts of contemporary colors were incorporated into the expansive windows, concrete columns and overhead beams. Other industrial features were also enhanced, such as the former loading dock whose walls were opened up and filled with swaths of glass curtainwall to create a new entrance and gallery. Exposed mechanical equipment, wood slat ceilings and custom millwork helps maintain the industrious spirit and the neighborhood’s urban character.

However, had it not been for the input and involvement of the community in the planning process, little of this would have happened. It started when CHICAT hosted a series of design charrettes – or brain-storming sessions – for community groups and individuals to discuss and share ideas. As many as 90 participants attended these meetings, giving the development team tremendous insight into what the community wanted and needed. The charrettes even continued after the project was completed to help make CHICAT’s programs even more beneficial to the community.