JGMA’s SOS Children’s Villages center is a cross-laminated timber first for Chicago

Sending Out An SOS

JGMA’s SOS Children’s Villages center is a cross-laminated timber first for Chicago

Chicago’s first building supported by cross-laminated timber (CLT) isn’t a flashy residential tower or sprawling office complex like in other cities experimenting with wood construction. Instead, it’s a single-story, multipurpose community center for children and families of the Roosevelt Square housing complex.

Designed by the Chicago-based JGMA, and completed in 2020, the 11,000-square-foot SOS Children’s Villages Illinois unites disparate social programs under one swooping roofline. The international nonprofit SOS Children’s Villages, founded in Innsbruck, Austria, provides support for struggling children and their families (including those with special needs) around the world. The JGMA-designed outpost is SOS Children’s Villages’ fourth in the United States; there are two others in Chicago, and another in Coconut Creek, Florida.

Aerial site plan of the SOS Children’s Villages Illinois
A plaza, playground, community gardens, and a parking lot all adjoin the L-shaped center. The CTA 60 and Blue and Pink lines also serve the area. (Courtesy JGMA)

A similar suite of supportive programming can be found at SOS Children’s Villages Illinois, the most recent addition to the organization’s portfolio. Programmatically, the new community center both offers recreation space and real-world training. That includes a full kitchen for culinary training and nutrition classes, space for therapy and academic classes, study areas, a computer lab, a public events space, and administrative and private offices for employees. The L-shaped building is surrounded by a public plaza, playground, and community gardens, encouraging outdoor comingling and education opportunities when the weather permits (Site Design Group served as landscape architect).

Though supported by CLT, SOS Children’s Villages Illinois is wrapped in a mixture of glazing and blue corrugated metal panels. The balance of each shifts as one moves along the building, from full floor-to-ceiling window coverage to a near absence in certain areas, analogous to the movement of breaking waves. The blue used for the exterior continues inside and covers everything from interior walls to the furniture to create a homogenous visual identity. JGMA also chose to keep the structural CLT columns and ceiling slab exposed to create organic warmth.

Side diagram of a single story swooping building
(Courtesy JGMA)

While the SOS Children’s Villages Illinois might be the first standalone timber building raised in Chicago thus far, SOM’s robotically fabricated SPLAM [SPatial LAMinated timber] Pavilion is currently on display at the EPIC Academy for the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial. While far from fully occupiable or weather-sealed, the techniques used to build SPLAM could form the groundwork for future multistory timber construction.