A 1924 commercial garage encased within a neo-modern glass facade is just one of the many design elements that were intentionally crafted into the three-story, 175,000-square-foot space that is home to the Center on Halsted in Chicago. Designed by Gensler, the Center is considered the most comprehensive community center dedicated to the health and well-being of the LGBT community in the Midwest. Its success is represented in the more than 1,000 people who use the Center every day, as well as the senior housing project it is co-developing with Heartland Housing. This LGBT-friendly project is a six-story housing complex for low-income seniors that is slated for completion in the fall of 2014.
Open since 2007, the Center has served as a meeting place for diverse organizations and communities. The use of glass on the exterior is both a physical design element, bringing in natural light to the open common areas, but also a representation of the Center’s mission.
“Historically, the businesses throughout the neighborhood that catered to the LGBT community often presented an opaque face to the street, with tinted windows and discreet entrances. This was especially true on Halsted Street, at least until attitudes toward this section of the population started to shift,” said Nila Leiserowitz, FASID, IIDA, and managing principal at Gensler. “We felt it was very important to embody the Center’s mission of openness and acceptance, so we did that architecturally through the use of clear glazing and by designing a storefront that can open onto the street.”
“Some of the Center on Halsted’s most frequent visitors are teens and seniors, and you only have to walk through the lobby to appreciate the diversity of people who use the space every day,” explained Leiserowitz.
Such is the case with the new senior housing project which illustrates this growing trend of incorporating senior housing facilities into the greater community. Because the senior housing project serves such a diverse group of people, a key element in the design process was coordinating a series of “brainstorming workshops” with members of the LGBT senior community and the Gensler design team. This interaction between the two was critical throughout the process and the feedback learned from it helped to inform everything from programming to choice of finishes.
“The project included the incorporation of a 100-year-old landmarked building, which has beautiful bones but has required some significant renovations to make it fully accessible. And of course, because this is affordable housing, the budget was very tight, so we worked closely with project stakeholders to determine what program was truly critical to locate within the facility. But because this is an urban infill project, with many resources already embedded in the neighborhood, this tactic worked to our advantage. We ended up with a fairly lean project that still meets the needs of its residents, and doesn’t replicate program they can access next door.”
Projects like the Center on Halsted hold special meaning for Leiserowitz, who was integral in developing gServe, Gensler’s internal employee network dedicated to community service and outreach.
“I am incredibly proud of what is has come to mean for Gensler. Fundamental to our DNA is the belief that we have a responsibility to the community in which we live and work. Projects that have that broader impact, like the Center on Halsted and its senior housing counterpart, continue to positively impact our city and its neighborhood. I feel like that is a true measure of success.”
Nila Leiserowitz will present her insights on the importance of communication in the design process, along with colleague, Tama Duffy Day, FASID, FIIDA, LEED AP BD+C, at the ASID Design to Lead Summit, May 2–3, 2014, in Atlanta.
Photo Credit: Gensler