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20 Years of Driehaus Architectural Awards

Published: March 2, 2017

Eric Young Smith


For 20 years, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design has fostered urban designs that inspire people and celebrate community.

“The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design was created, in conjunction with the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards, to encourage development that respects and strengthens the city’s unmatched architectural heritage – especially in neighborhoods confronting economic and social challenges,” said Richard H. Driehaus, founder and CEO of Driehaus Capital Management LLC. “For the past 20 years, the award has recognized developments that are making a significant contribution to the social, visual and cultural life of their neighborhoods through quality design. When we began in 1997, I hoped to encourage development that respects and strengthens the city’s unmatched architectural heritage and responds to human needs. Through the award we have demonstrated that good design is not more expensive in the long run and that it enhances communities and improves lives. But even I have been surprised as the architects and designers of these projects have raised the bar in ways I could not have foreseen.”

“The quality of life of a city isn’t just measured by its downtown. It’s measured by the entire city,” said Blair Kamin, architecture critic at the Chicago Tribune. “In some tellings of the Chicago architecture story, the neighborhoods have taken a back seat. This is why I love the Driehaus awards. Architecture is not simply a downtown enterprise. It extends to the neighborhoods of the city and the people of the city. And, it comes from a guy who grew up in the neighborhoods, and he didn’t forget where he came from.”

Each year, the award recognizes three real estate developments that are making a significant contribution to the social, visual and cultural life of their neighborhoods through quality of design. For consideration, a project must: demonstrate superior quality design; enhance or serve as an integral part of the comprehensive development of the community, and; exhibit a creative design solution that could become a model for projects in other neighborhoods.

“Richard made it clear from the beginning – it has to be an architectural award. It has to be judged qualitatively. This isn’t about intent,” said Tom Beeby, Chairman Emeritus, HBRA Architects. “You actually have to produce high-level work that solves real problems.”

“We feel that this award helps encourage architects to put the human at the center of the idea of the design process,” added Kim Coventry, executive director of The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. “We want to reinforce that kind of thinking so that it becomes the norm in architectural practice rather than the exception.”

In keeping with the innovation of the awards, the jury is also unique. Instead of comprising only architects and designers, it includes community development professionals and others engaged in working in Chicago neighborhoods. Instead of relying on photographs, the jury actually visits each site.

“There’s a really big distinction between the Driehaus Awards versus any normal architecture award in that you can actually walk the jury through the building, get a sense of the space, realize the nuances to the design,” said Jeff Bone, Principal, Landon Bone Baker Architects. “And those are all things that you really can’t pick up in photographs.”

This year, the jury selected the following winners: Wheeler Kearns Architects for Lakeview Pantry (first place); Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP for Chicago Public Library – Chinatown Branch (second place); Landon Bone Baker Architects for Terrance 459 at Parkside of Old Town (third place).

The Lakeview Pantry is an organization that contributes 1.3 million meals and serves 7,000 households. Wheeler Kearns project architect Daniel Wicke, who studied the workflow and procedures at the pantry’s original site, had a deep understanding of the need for the Pantry to be both efficient and uplifting.

“There were people who didn’t want this,” said 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman. “But now they think this is a brand new, well designed grocery store. Architecture means everything.”

The second-place team, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, created a vast open, ethereal space for the Chicago Public Library’s Chinatown Branch. The trapezoidal-shaped, two-story, glass-walled structure is a visual magnet, complete with a stand of gingko trees and a garden in an otherwise dense neighborhood.

“This is more than just a place for books,” said Brian Bannon, commissioner and CEO of the Chicago Public Library. “It’s a center for community learning. It represents a new vision for our neighborhood libraries and shows that when you create a dynamic public space it will activate a neighborhood.”

Landon Bone Baker Architects, who came in third, transformed the former location of Cabrini-Green into Terrace 459 at Parkside of Old Town. Battling a tight budget, Landon Bone Baker relied on innovative building techniques and materials that provide durability and beauty. Terrace 459 integrates itself into the surrounding neighborhood by encouraging enlivened street activity through its use of attractive landscaping and inviting windows.

The 2017 winners will join an esteemed group of past recipients, ranging from veteran architectural firms to emerging talent. In the 20 years since its inception, the Driehaus Award has fostered a healthy competition among firms. The awards have influenced how firms approach future projects. It has inspired and challenged them, simply by providing a place to be recognized for architecture that has a neighborhood impact.

“The best part for us is when clients who have won a Driehaus Award come back to us and say, here’s the next project. Get the award,” said Patricia Saldana Natke, Founding Partner, UrbanWorks. “So the fact that design is at the forefront of the decision-making process is paramount.”

“It has done what I think Richard really wanted it to do over these 20-plus years, and that is change the mindset in the field of neighborhood development,” said Andrew J. Mooney, former Commissioner of Planning and Development and executive director of LISC Chicago when the Driehaus Award was created. “And, has made us very aware that we have to think through what the aesthetic impact is going to be at the neighborhood level.”

See all the winners over the last 20 years.

And watch the 20 years of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Excellence in Community Design video… 

Posted in Areas of Work, Neighborhoods

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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