Adaptive Reuse

A New Life for the Old Main Post Office

Photo credit: Liz Chilsen

Photo credit: Liz Chilsen

Twenty-three years ago, the United States Postal Service shut down operations at the Old Main Post Office at 433 W. Van Burn Street in Chicago. The well-known Art Deco building sat vacant and neglected for years until the property was acquired by developer 601W Companies in 2016. Work to bring the building back to life began shortly thereafter. According to a recent story in Curbed Chicago, the plan to transform the 2.8 million-square-foot-building “is the nation’s single largest adaptive reuse project currently under construction.”

It was built in 1921 and expanded in 1934, and designed by one of Chicago’s best known architecture firms, Graham, Anderson, Probst and White. According to Landmarks Illinois, “the massive limestone façade is a mammoth example of the Classic Art Deco style, and the main lobby features lavish details like white marble and gold glass mosaics. Since purchasing the massive structure, 601W has worked with global architecture firm Gensler to restore the Art Deco icon to its former glory.”

In 1997, Landmarks Illinois had included the Old Main Post Office on their list of Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois. After more than two decades of advocating for its reuse, Landmarks Illinois can point to the building as just one of many preservation success stories.

Chicago Exhibition Space Celebrates Architecture and Socially Engaged Art

Le Corbusier and Ando

Le Corbusier and Ando

Wrightwood 659, a new exhibition space in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, opened earlier this month. Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando transformed a 1920s building with his signature concrete forms and poetic treatment of natural light. According to their website, Wrightwood 659 will be devoted to exhibitions of architecture and socially engaged art. Lisa Cavanaugh, Director of Wrightwood 659, states

“We are delighted to be opening a new space for art in Chicago, one conducive to quiet reflection and thoughtful engagement, while also provoking activism on behalf of a more just society. We look forward to welcoming visitors to Wrightwood 659.”

The inaugural exhibition, Ando and Le Corbusier: Masters of Architecture, on view October 12–December 15, 2018, will explore French architect Le Corbusier’s important influence on Ando. Curbed Chicago covered the opening of the new space and their story includes several wonderful photographs by Esto Photography’s Jeff Goldberg.

In a city filled with many internationally regarded art institutions, Wrightwood 659 aims for more “intimate experiences of art and architecture,” the venue said in a statement. Wrightwood won’t own a collection, but it plans to host exhibitions that focus on socially engaged art and explorations in architecture and design. 

Earth Day 2017

April 22 is Earth Day, the annual effort to demonstrate support for environmental protection. The date was originally chosen (47 years ago) in order to maximize participation on college campuses for what the organizer conceived as an "environmental teach-in" for students. Today the event is global, and various sectors use the occasion to mark their commitment to a healthy planet - including architects!

Thanks to the work of organizations like the U.S. Green Building Council, the AIA and others, building owners and architects are finding ways to design, build, restore and maintain structures that allow people, communities, and our planet to thrive. Today seems like an appropriate time to share a portion of AIA's statement on sustainability:

What is sustainability? 

Sustainability is about positioning current and future generations for prosperity by reducing buildings’ impact on the environment, restoring our natural resources and creating safe and vibrant communities.  When architecture is sustainable, it performs to its highest design potential: producing not consuming; providing resilient structures and communities that withstand the onslaughts of both natural and man-made disasters; and fostering opportunities for health and well-being. 

Why is sustainability important?

Sustainability is a key element of the architecture profession’s approach to design in the 21st century as it tackles the compounding global challenges of resource availability, water quality and increasing pollution. It is part of an architect’s approach to protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public.  Community sustainability goals are fulfilled in large part by an architect’s ability to create practical solutions to the challenges posed by climate change, population growth and the pursuit of more connected, healthier communities.

To read more about the AIA's commitment to sustainability, click here. Of course, I'm happy to chat about the topic with you at any time.

An Update: The Historic Congress Theater

Last December, I shared a blog post that gave a little background about the historic Congress Theater in Chicago's Logan Square and our involvement in efforts to bring the building back to life.

Last week, Curbed Chicago editor AJ LaTrace ran an article that provided an update on this major renovation project. New sketches, submitted to the city last week, propose either 32 residences in the theater building or 50 hotel rooms. A separate 10-story residential building would be built on the vacant lot across the street and would include 120 units and ground floor commercial space. Alderman Joe Moreno's office has said that a community review of the proposal will begin shortly.

In the meantime, the owners of the theater have sought landmark status for the 90-plus-year-old building. If secured, the building would be eligible for federal preservation tax credits. As our work proceeds, I will offer additional details on our Portfolio page.

Another Look at Arc at Old Colony

As referenced in our portfolio, BTLA was the exterior wall restoration architect team member for the adaptive re-use of the Old Colony Building conversion to student housing. Our work on the building was featured in the new issue of Chicagoland Buildings & Environments.

The landmark 17-story steel frame building, originally designed by famed architects Holabird and Roche, was among the tallest buildings in Chicago at the time of its construction in 1894. The $58 million renovation was guided and executed by Chicago-based Pappageorge Haymes Partners. You can learn more about this amazing project here.