Historic Preservation in Uptown: Lawrence House Now Open


The Lawrence House, a stunning showcase of historic preservation, is now mostly open to tenants. Formerly a residential hotel in the ’20s, the roost of cosmopolitans who were seldom home, the Lawrence House later became a retirement hotel (fun fact, my grandma lived there for a time). Despite subsequently falling into disrepair, the property still held some gems of Art Deco design from its previous lineage, among them a sprawling antique tile pool ceiling on the lower level and ornate masonry around exterior window frames.


(after photos of pool, above)

peel back the slider to reveal the ‘before’ photo of the pool.
Before shot of the Lawrence House hotel pool covered with vintage tile and an arcing ceiling. It is black and white. (before photos of pool, above)


We broke ground on the property in January 2015, and have now completed rehabbing the buildings into 344 total studio, 1 bedroom and 2 bedroom apartments in conjunction with FLATS Chicago. The ground floor is home to Heritage Bicycles, a coffee shop and bicycle enthusiasts port. Throughout the building are more amenities than you can shake a stick at, including a full service gym with boxing gear, a fully rehabbed basement pool, washer / dryer in all units, a gorgeous lobby for working and daydreaming, and a roof level lounge and a rooftop lounge. Oh and there are Smeg Fridges. If you’ve been lamenting the boxy silhouette of your current fridge, Smeg has got you covered with a retro style fridge that is all rounded corners.

Picture of a modern british inspired lobby at the rehabbed lawrence house apartments in Chicago's uptown neighborhood


While we typically attempt to reveal, maintain and restore historic structural elements in our projects (as this both embodies the reuse and reduce ethos of our practice), this particular project was different; it is a registered historic landmark with the National Parks Service (NPS), which seeks to protect sites that offer windows into the past, giving us “opportunities to ask who we are, where we have been, and how we, as a society, might approach the future.” (from the NPS website).

Working with and restoring historic sites has tax benefits too, which the IRS has granted because it concurs with NPS that such restoration is a community catalyst, creating job opportunities and fostering engagement. The status of this tier of historic structure is determined by its compliance with the Secretary’s Standards for Rehabilitation. We worked in conjunction with NPS and our historic consultants MacRostie Historic Advisors to determine which elements of The Lawrence House were historically relevant and should be restored. Those included the lobby and vaulted ceiling pool, of course, but even normally mundane items like baseboard trim, windows, storefront and roof terrace fireplace.

Original roof deck on Lawrence House(original roof deck, seen in Architecture Magazine, January 1924)


roof-deck-before-1(before photo of the roof deck, and after, below)



While maintaining some of the historic elements of the building, certain systems are so woefully inefficient that they will drag down the overall eco-minded profile of the building if we leave them be. Electrical wiring was not code compliant and the service required enhancement, and the HVAC system (more on that below) needed a serious upgrade. We also wanted to improve the insulation drastically to keep utility bills mild and temperatures pleasant, whatever the weather. We replaced old, inefficient windows, added insulation to exterior walls, in some cases, and replaced water fixtures with more efficient models.


Our most significant improvement is VRF, or Variable Refrigerant Flow space conditioning system, an innovative solution in an apartment building that uses a central hub for heating and cooling, as opposed to individual boilers and cooling units. Think of it like a bank for energy and climate regulatory needs. Many units (and all homes, since they aren’t stacked) contain individual boilers and cooling units, which necessarily could handle a full load of heating or cooling (everyone in the house taking hot baths at once AND the dishwasher is running AND its a polar vortex AND…you get the picture; although you also know the boiler can’t always handle this). But in apartments, sizing units to the full potential capacity of each and every single unit is a bit redundant and wasteful. Why not pool boiler and cooling units, which requires less energy since a larger volume of hot water will cool slower than 17 individual containers of hot water at the same temperature; and have residents draw from the pool when needed? Additionally, central, veiled cooling components on the roof cut down on the use of protruding and unsightly units which compromise the building envelope. This reduces energy usage and improves insulation efficiency so much that our project qualifies for energy credits from the local utility.

Lawrence House photo of lounge with fireplace(community room with restored fireplace, above)