Moss Revitalizes Classic Edgewater Four Plus One


Our redesign of the 5411 Winthrop  for Flats Chicago breathes new life into a classic example of Chicago’s Four Plus One apartment blocks.  moss’s aim is to restore the building’s iconic 1970′s drama and glamour.  The tired tan brick has been updated in dark grey and the angular concrete awning is highlighted with bright green, drawing you in to the updated glass entry.

Before we delve into our updates, a little history …

The Four Plus One in Chicago

The Four Plus One is an apartment type (or at least a name) unique to Chicago, identifiable by their structure – four stories of apartment units stacked over one ground level parking area, tucked under the building footprint. These buildings were pervasive in the Edgewater area during the 1960’s and 70’s and still have a strong presence in the north side, lake-adjacent neighborhoods.  They’ve gotten a bad rap over the years for both having parking visible from the street (unsightly) and for not having enough parking to meet the demand posed by their efficient stacking of units.  Read all about their background on controversy in this excellent and detailed article by Forgotten Chicago.


Avenue Motel via Forgotten Chicago

A Distinguished Modernist Heritage

To moss, Four Plus One apartments, like our latest project on Winthrop, represent a link with a distinguished architectural lineage.  The resemblance to exuberant modernism of 1960’s hotel design (above) is clear.  So is the heritage of classic West Hollywood “Dingbat” houses, which filled the entire lot space and stacked squared off living spaces over street access parking.  The platonic ideal of this concept is Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye which elevated living to a literal higher plane and maintained an open ground plane below which gave access for cars to circle under the building.


West Hollywood Dingbat via L.A.Places


Villa Savoye, via Ville-Poisse.fr

Our Approach:  Updated Entry with an Eye on Chicago’s Past

At Flats Winthrop 5411, the parking is masked by the front of the building (a response to the public dislike of exposed parking) and the facade is energized at ground level by undulating concrete awnings which we’ve highlighted with a new paint job.

DSC02985 copy

DSC02978 copy

The light-filled entry is clean and spacious, encouraging tenants and guests to sit a moment on the elongated leather sofa and check out the series of black and white photos of the neighborhood during the 1970’s.  The series is the work of Chicago photographer, Bob Rehak, profiled on the far wall.  The entry provides access to the common corridors and fitness room.

DSC03000 copy

DSC03007 copy

Before and After: Entry

The new paint job, detailed window guards and glass entry door update the historic design in with modern sensibilities, breathing new life into the building and ensuring that it will remain a valued part of the neighborhood during the decades to come.

IMG_1960 copy

DSC02970 copy

Before and After: Street View

The street approach was updated with a new wooden fence which uses strong horizontal lines to delineate space and anchor the building.

5411 Winthrop Parkway

DSC02992 copy

Inside the Units: Function and Flexibility

Decades of interior finishes were stripped away, exposing the concrete and masonry walls, and then updated with new, energy efficient appliances, simple, effective cabinetry and minimal trim details to allow new tenants to stamp each unit with their own personal style.  The units have been completely reorganized to maximize open living space while creating “micro-space” sleeping areas for beds in nooks or small bedrooms.  A variety of different unit types are available (from Smart One Bedrooms to a ground floor Townhouse unit which has access to a small patio) encourage a diverse tenant population to mix in the building.

This show unit is furnished by CB2 to demonstrate well designed potential layout and showcase sleek, chic and functional style.

DSC03025 copy

DSC03036 copy

DSC03031 copy


  • Matt Nardella

    Important to note, Yo Chicago, there is a lot of construction activity that happens inside of a building over the course of a 15 month project that is not discernible from the street, especially when most of the improvements are interior renovations.

    Since its obviously just based on conjecture, you’ll be happy to hear that instead of “a 1-bedroom that was probably once a studio” several demising walls were relocated to make usable bedrooms at the 1-bedroom units.

  • Duane Hagerty

    The premise of this blog post is a bit hard to swallow, especially if FLATS is serious about the “authentic” rehabilitation of older buildings. Its admirable that FLATS has undertaken the renovations of 4 + 1 buildings. However, they should take the advice from the great modernist architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe when he said “less is more.” STOP PAINTING BRICK BUILDINGS!!

    Post World War II architecture of this type has interesting design and architectural features. Unfortunately, in its renovation, FLATS has irretrievably marred the distinct architecture and design of this 4 + 1 building.

    From both a taste standpoint and a maintenance standpoint, FLATS would have been VERY wise to avoid painting the brick on this building (and every other unfortunate brick building it has painted). Painting brick is a cardinal sin when it comes to maintaining a brick masonry building. Any reputable brick mason will tell you that. Mortar is meant to breathe. Painting brick and mortar seals the mortar and suffocates a building that was meant to breathe. Moisture will inevitably invade the brick and mortar (especially since it appears that FLATS is painting these buildings to avoid the cost of proper tuck pointing). Because of Chicago’s freeze and thaw cycles, the moisture that gets trapped in painted brick buildings freezes in the winter. As everyone knows, frozen water expands, resulting in flaking of the brick and the paint. These painted brick buildings will look horrible after only a few short years because of the peeling and cracking of the paint and the brick.

    The “tired tan brick” was an original design feature of these buildings. The unpainted concrete of the awnings was also an original design feature. In fact, these are the features that gave the building its distinctive mid-century modern aesthetic. A modernist designer/architect has respect for the properties and the integrity of the building materials and would never have painted brick masonry or concrete. By painting this building maudlin gray and the underside of the awnings garish green, FLATS has destroyed anything that was distinctive about this building.

    As someone who celebrates the reuse of older/historic buildings, I was at first excited to see FLATS undertaking the renovation of many of these disused buildings. But I see now that they are misguided in their approach. The FLATS website states that “Authenticity is our addiction.” How does that statement square with FLATS’ addiction to painting every building they get ahold of that WAS authentically brick? They’re taking something that was authentic and making it something it was never meant to be.

    • Matt Nardella

      Thank you for the comment, Duane. A little bit of background. When we started the project the building was in the middle of a failed, and by the looks of it, miserable condo conversion. It took quite a bit of work to erase the misguided and substandard construction that the previous developer had started. I would guess that most developers may have just completed the work as it stood and gone on their way. I appreciate that we were able to spend the extra time and resources to make a more functional and appropriate layout for the building.

      I don’t think there is any confusing the architectural marvels of Villa Savoye or Casa Curutchet with Chicago’s stock of 4+1 buildings. Since I lived in Southern California for a while, I see the correlation between the Hollywood ‘dingbat’ designs and Chicago’s auto oriented architecture. Let’s not kid ourselves, the 50’s era 4+1 design approach was wrong and has adversely affected our streetscape and pedestrian environment by giving us blank facades, driveways interrupting sidewalks and too much surface parking.

      As for the masonry, Im sure most architects, including me, wince at the thought of painting brick. When I first heard the bricks at this building would be painted (it was the client’s decision, not mine) I had a similar reaction. But I don’t think painting this building has affected the significance, or lack thereof, of this project as I can’t find anything historically significant about this particular structure. On a technical note, mostly only plants and animals breathe, walls do not. As with any wall construction, it is important that the assembly be vapor permeable (which some people equate with breathing), not to be confused with water resistant. Latex or Portland based paints allow for vapor to escape from the masonry. Because this building’s masonry was, in fact, tuck-pointed and repaired prior to painting the masonry is no more likely to fail than at any other building. However, yes, it will have to be repainted fairly often.

  • Duane Hagerty

    Matt, thanks for your response. I understand that the painting of this building is not of the greatest consequence. And, yes, I understand that walls do not breathe. It was not meant to be literal. FLATS should be commended for taking on redevelopment of these buildings. However, some of their decisions puzzle me and do not seem smart, especially if you take their “Schtick” (as explained on their website) seriously. I know that their final design and construction decisions are not your call.

    Two of the most egregious examples of FLATS’ failure to be “addicted to authenticity” (part of their “Schtick”) is the painting of the historic brick structures at 4875 Magnolia and 5718 Winthrop. Those were two beautiful brick buildings before they were painted. I live close to the 4875 Magnolia building, so I know that building was not tuck pointed before it was painted. The building was spot tuck pointed and repaired after the fact. All of the numerous repairs and re-pointings are currently visible and will have to be painted again. It seems that the only reasons FLATS would have for painting these two buildings is a misguided attempt to cut corners on tuck pointing costs or because they want to “brand” their buildings. Neither of those reasons satisfies their self described “addiction to authenticity.”

    I know from speaking to people in the neighborhood that most people were puzzled and dismayed when 4875 Magnolia was painted in 2012. They continue to be dismayed that the building looks in even worse shape now (because of the unpainted masonry patches). I think people in the neighborhood are still cautiously optimistic that FLATS will be good for the area, but the slow pace and questionable design decisions are making people wonder. Maybe things will turn around in the spring.

    Again, thanks for your response.