New Pilsen Mixed-Use Building To Infill a Vacant Lot


Our latest ready-to-go project is new construction, rather than an existing building remodel. This Pilsen mixed-use building will fill in a vacant lot, increasing neighborhood density! This three floor building will feature two residential units, a ground floor commercial space and a generous alley side garage, all packed on to a classic 25′ Chicago narrow lot.

Thinking outside the Stack

Chicago has a strong tradition of stacked plan multi-unit buildings. Greystones and Courtyard Apartment buildings stack two or three identical floor plans on top of each other – easy to construct and to replicate. That feature can also be a drawback – its predictable and results in a very uniform type of rental space with a rear egress stair cutting off a main source of natural light.

For this project we wanted to shake up the “stacked pancake” style of floor plan. We knew that the client wanted two different sizes of residential unit – why not make sure each one was a really interesting space with a variety of volumes, views and access points.

schematic massing and plans

We studied the zoning regulations for setbacks, build-able floor area ratio to site area, and building height. Then we set about trying to work within those constraints to make a really interesting and unexpected building. The massing and floor plan studies (above) show a compact sleeping-loft style Efficiency for Unit 01 and Unit 02 opening onto the city views to the back of the property with a private bedroom level stacked above a generous living area that opened directly onto the rooftop garden over the garage. Each unit features both high and low ceilinged areas with level changes to maximize the variety of spaces with a small footprint.

schematic section

Working Creatively With the Code

We knew an unusual building form like this one would raise eyebrows over that the City Building Department. Whenever we take on a project that will buck Chicago convention (while fully following the stated building regulations), we plan ahead to ensure a strong case for the inevitable questions we’ll get from the city. In the case we are adding fire sprinklers to reduce the egress requirement for the third floor as shown in the diagram. Before developing this scheme further we thought it was necessary to speak with the Building Department in advance of submitting full plans to ensure they agreed with our interpretation of the Chicago Building Code.

egress diagram

Massing Studies: Iterating the Idea

Once we were confident that our schematic layout would meet the client’s program needs AND satisfy the Chicago safety requirements, we got down to the serious fun of making sure the building form responded well to all the site conditions of view, daylight access, protection from heat and rain and privacy.  The diagrams below show the iterative process of developing a simple massing form into a complex and responsive building concept.

massing versions

Facade Studies for Pilsen Mixed-Use Building

Buildings like our Pilsen mixed-use design always face an interesting challenge of providing enough public street front space to get the retail unit plenty of attention while sheltering and preserving the privacy of the upper residential units.  We went through a number of facade studies to consider various ways of shading and shielding the upper floors.

exterior facades

When we thought about the materiality of the building, the landscape of Pilsen played a big role.  This part of Chicago is rich in rusty industrial history.  As we considered various options for creating “screens” at the front wall, we thought about some of the patterns of metal work around the area.  Structures like the Canal Street rail road bridge (below) made a jumping off point for some of our diagonal and crisscrossing pattern explorations.

Canal street rail road bridge

We always remember that facades aren’t just about the “face” of the building; what happens outside strongly affects how the interior spaces will feel – in terms of space, light, and privacy.  The drawings below pair an exterior design idea with the interior view of the front bedroom on the third floor.

facade interior v2

The first (above) has a more traditional pattern of walls and windows – ready to have privacy shades pulled down at night.  The second option (below) uses a pattern of screens overlaid outside a wall of windows to give privacy all the time, while allowing the person inside to peek out for views from a guarded position.

facade interior v1

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