The Broadway Youth Center offers essential care to Chicago’s LGBTQ youth

Under One Roof

The Broadway Youth Center offers essential care to Chicago’s LGBTQ youth

The Broadway Youth Center’s facade uses a panelized system with a range of brick types and treatments. (Kendall McCaugherty/Hall + Merrick Photographers)

Designed by Wheeler Kearns Architects, the Broadway Youth Center is a branch of Howard Brown Health, which provides accessible, welcoming, and state-of-the-art care for LGBTQ youth. As the first ground-up building in the Howard Brown network, the center has programming, warmth, and presence that represents its commitment to community and individual wellness in historically underserved populations.

Howard Brown Health was founded in the 1970s as a healthcare system serving the LGBTQ community with affordable care at inconspicuous facilities. Since its conception, the network has grown to accommodate a wide range of individuals across many neighborhoods in the city while maintaining a focus on holistic, affirming care that challenges institutional biases and costs. As such, the Broadway Youth Center integrates trauma-informed design to support its programs, which include clinics, a pharmacy, exam rooms, labs, sleeping rooms, and a dance and movement studio. The spaces are designed to welcome patients into a bright and open facility without feeling juvenile or clinical. Warm wood and bright accent colors mingle with streamlined surfaces and simple furniture to create comfortable, sensible settings, whether in an exam room or a lounge.

The ground-floor (first-floor) check-in desk (Kendall McCaugherty/Hall + Merrick Photographers)
An upper-level meeting room (Kendall McCaugherty/Hall + Merrick Photographers)

Located on a narrow lot in the Buena Park neighborhood of Chicago, the new clinic hosts five stories of services that address mental and physical health and are further supported by facilities like a kitchen, a laundry room, and meditation spaces. The previous youth center occupied a one-story building, so part of the design imperative was to redistribute the programming vertically in a way that allows for privacy but still feels approachable and warm.

To encourage engagement, Wheeler Kearns placed the urgent-clinic exam rooms on the first floor but carefully designed the initial entry to avoid an intimidating, institutional atmosphere. Project architect Noah Luken told AN that “the initial impulse was to put all the healthcare facilities on the upper floors, but we thought sending everyone up an elevator would run counter to the ‘low barrier of entry’ approach.” Thus, the waiting room to see a clinician doubles as a cafe, providing a low-stakes, casual, and comfortable setting for those seeking treatment. “This is not a clinic with a social services clubhouse tacked on,” Luken told AN. “The two have equal footing.”

Transitioning from a meeting space to an individual office on the fourth floor (Kendall McCaugherty/Hall + Merrick Photographers)
A double-height dance and movement room on the fourth floor (Kendall McCaugherty/Hall + Merrick Photographers)

The new building was an opportunity for Howard Brown to establish a more prominent presence. In decades past, the organization stuck to existing buildings with nondescript exteriors to protect the discretion that allowed potential patients to feel comfortable seeking medical care. Now the Broadway Youth Center is a five-story symbol of pride and security, with an exterior that is simultaneously familiar and eye-catching. (The success was enough to land the project a win in the Healthcare category in AN’s Best of Design Awards last year.) Wheeler Kearns employed a standard brick-paneled facade that references the surrounding residential context but took the atypical approach of using different brick bonds and slight variations in color for each panel. The panels are organized around a window grid system that allows each exam room, office, and common area to receive an abundance of natural sunlight. The resulting patchwork quilt effect is unified while still unique.

The site’s proximity to Chicago’s L train also intensifies the need for strategic placement of services and trauma-informed design. The building’s height makes it visible from the train platform, an attribute that potentially disrupts the privacy and tranquility, which are paramount to the facilities. Rather than shrinking away from the complication, Wheeler Kearns capitalized on the visibility and opened the rear facade to bystanders by placing a large window in the dance and movement space. The window is triple glazed to minimize sound, and the sill is raised to waist height, preventing a view of dancers from the train. Instead, the passengers are able to see a projected installation that broadcasts the mission and slogan of the Broadway Youth Center. The new facility connects the organization to the city and offers a respite to those who need care.

Alaina Griffin is a regular contributor to AN.