Assemble Chicago, a design and development proposal from Studio Gang and nonprofit mixed-income housing developer The Community Builders that envisions an affordable, carbon-neutral residential high-rise for the heart of the Windy City, has won the City of Chicago’s C40 Reinventing Cities competition. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot made the highly anticipated announcement in a press conference yesterday, heralding Studio Gang and The Community Builders’ vision for a disused parcel in the Loop as being “emblematic of the deeply positive impacts that community-driven neighborhood development can have on our entire city.”
According to a press release from the Mayor’s Office, the competition-winning proposal, described as “for Chicago’s first net-zero, all-affordable high-rise,” was chosen over three other net-zero mixed-use proposals due to “its superior design, commitment to affordability, family-sized units, development team experience, proposed purchase price, and community feedback, among other factors.”
DesignBridge and JAQ Corp worked alongside Studio Gang on the design of the redevelopment project, while dbHMS, Thornton Tomasetti, Engage Civil Engineering, Site Design Group, Applied Ecological Services, Center for Neighborhood Technology, Rush University College of Nursing, and Calibrate Coaching round out the larger team. Will Woodley, Regional Vice President for Real Estate Development with The Community Builders, praised the Studio Gang-led design team for delivering an “impactful architecture that addresses climate change and inequity while bringing Chicagoans together in a development that will strengthen the Loop.”
Set to rise on an underutilized, L-shaped plot located directly opposite Pritzker Park at Van Buren Street and Plymouth Court currently home to a vacant parking garage and unused land, Assemble Chicago will take the form of a 20-story apartment tower perched atop a “NeighborHub.” Among other features, the multi-level community asset housed within the building podium is set to include a health clinic, produce market, food hall showcasing local and minority-owned enterprises, dedicated office spaces for ecological- and community development-minded nonprofits, and venues for cultural programming, according to a Studio Gang news release announcing the win.
The proposal also calls for a revitalization of the 1.15-acre Pritzker Park, which, combined with the new high-rise, will lead to the creation of a “vibrant indoor-outdoor civic hub” for the Loop. Per the city, planned improvements at the park, which will be finalized during forthcoming community engagement initiatives, include a spray fountain, community stage, rain garden, landscaping, and restrooms.
The estimated cost of Assemble Chicago is $102 million and includes a $2 million contribution for improvements at the Chicago Parks District-operated Pritzker Park. Pending approval by Chicago City Council, the rapid transit-adjacent development site, appraised for just under $8 million, will be sold to The Community Builders for $1.
Described by Studio Gang as “efficient and healthy living spaces,”Assemble Chicago’s 207 apartments will be made available to moderate- and lower-income Chicagoans earning 30-to-80 percent of the area median income, which is equivalent to an annual salary range of $19,000-to-$73,000. As detailed by Studio Gang, all residences will feature a contemporary version of Chicago’s iconic bay window to allow for abundant daylight and fresh air. “Stacked over the height of the tower, the bays create a rhythmic, vertically articulated façade that resonates with the architectural character of the Loop’s historic buildings while introducing contemporary materials and technologies that dramatically increase the building’s environmental performance,” the firm explained in its announcement.
“Evolving Chicago’s architectural traditions with 21st-century building technologies to address the urgent crises of housing inequality and climate change, our design establishes Studio Gang’s first fully affordable residential community within C40’s ambitious, carbon-neutral framework in the heart of downtown,” elaborated Jeanne Gang, founding partner of the Chicago-headquartered Studio Gang. “With a vibrant base that connects to a rejuvenated Pritzker Park and an elegant exterior that harmonizes with Downtown’s historical context, Assemble Chicago will create a new civic hub for all Chicagoans and provide a model for sustainable development for cities worldwide.”
In line with the stringent environmental benchmarks established by The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which is currently chaired by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg serving as president of the board, Assemble Chicago will target LEED Platinum certification and LEED Zero Energy and Zero Carbon designations. To be constructed from what the city referred to as an “innovative, low-carbon concrete mix,” Assemble Chicago is also targeting Living Building Challenge Materials Petal Certification.
Assemble Chicago was selected via a formal request for proposals (RFP), issued last year by the Department of Planning and Development through the international C40 Reinventing Cities competition. Prior to that in September 2020, the city announced the five finalists in the running for the Loop redevelopment project. The shortlisted proposals submitted alongside Assemble Chicago were: Common Good Collaborative (Lendlease and KMA Co. with Valerio Dewalt Train and Association and Latent Design), EcoVibe (DL3 Realty and CityPads with Perkins&Will and Brook Architecture), Team Unity (Keith Giles, Mercy Housing, and Chicago TREND Corporation with Fitzgerald Architects) and Turnstone Development (Turnstone Development and Lightengale Group with MKB Architects and Mir Collective). In total, 13 developer-slash-design teams responded to the city’s initial request for qualifications that proceeded the RFP process.
The winner of an earlier, parallel competition sponsored by C40 focused on the sustainable, mixed-use redevelopment of a vacant site in East Garfield Park on Chicago’s West Side was announced in May 2019. The winning proposal in that competition was Garfield Green from the development and design team of the Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) with Perkins&Will and NIA Architects.
Noting in a statement that Assemble Chicago will provide the city with “much-needed affordable and sustainable housing in the heart of the Loop,” Laura Jay, C40 Regional Director for North America, went on to refer to the project as an “important example for cities around the world on how to ensure equitable housing, improvement of public spaces and services, and climate change can be addressed jointly.”