Rene — Architect Designs Building for Homeless

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Architect Designs Building for Homeless
The Associated Press
09/11/04 04:31 EDT
CHICAGO (AP) – Renowned architect Helmut Jahn has designed sleek,
one-of-a-kind structures for bankers and office workers, dabbled in
sports and entertainment venues and even erected a modern airline
terminal. But one of his latest structures is an environmentally
friendly structure intent on a larger purpose: housing the poor.
Jahn’s stainless steel and glass “single room occupancy” building is
expected to be built next year on a vacant lot near the Cabrini-Green
housing project, which is gradually being torn down.
The silver, Twinkie-shaped structure will consist of 100 units, and
includes public areas where residents can meet and socialize. But more
importantly, homeless advocates say, it will draw attention to the
“supportive housing movement,” which promotes SRO buildings as a way
to ease the homeless problem.
In supportive housing, social services and counseling are offered on
site and – unlike at shelters – the poor have a room to call their own.
“We didn’t really start out to make something unique,” Jahn said. “We
started out really with a room. We made a very efficient room.”
Jahn’s design borrows heavily from the award-winning plans he drafted
for the dormitories about 7 miles south at the Illinois Institute of
Technology, his alma mater.
His plans for the Near North SRO include several energy-saving features
like rooftop wind turbines and solar paneling to offset electricity
costs, and a recycling system where rainwater would be collected on
the building’s roof and then used to flush toilets.
Lakefront Supportive Housing, the company that will own and manage
Near North Apartments, asked the Chicago-based Jahn to design the
building because of the high-profile intersection it will occupy.
Division Street and Clybourn Avenue is an unofficial border separating
Cabrini-Green, which became a national symbol for the problems
associated with public housing, from the affluent Old Town and Gold
Coast neighborhoods.
Demolition of the housing projects began almost 10 years ago, and
the neighborhood is now undergoing a mixed-income redevelopment.
“One of the things we wanted to demonstrate is the importance of
good design in creating healthy communities,” said Jean Butzen,
Lakefront’s president.
Interest in SROs and supportive housing has grown as the Chicago
Housing Authority has moved forward with an ambitious $1.5 billion
program to rebuild or rehab 25,000 public housing units.
Lee Bey, a former Chicago Sun-Times architecture critic, said Jahn’s
involvement shows that urban planners realize the poor can no longer
be housed in huge, isolated, high rises.
“Housing of this sort can no longer be stuck on an island someplace,”
he said. “Big cities went through this phase where we built housing
of a last resort. And now cities like Chicago are stepping away from
that, and that is a good thing.”
This so-called “New Urbanism” trend is also apparent in cities like
New York and Atlanta, where high-rise towers and concentrated poverty
are being replaced by townhouses and mixed-income communities.
The push at the New York Housing Authority, which provides subsidized
housing for roughly 420,000 people, is for buildings that are similar
in design to what the agency was constructing when it was first
organized 70 years ago, said spokesman Howard Marder.
“We kind of came full-circle to these townhouses and low-rise
buildings,” he said.
The Atlanta Housing Authority, meanwhile, began replacing its
dilapidated, crime-ridden “barrack-style” properties with mixed-income
developments in the mid-1990s, said Ann Wiener, a spokeswoman for
the Atlanta Housing Authority.
“It’s a much more vibrant community this way, you are exposing (the
residents) to different types of communities,” Weiner said.
Roberta Feldman, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago
who has studied the relationship between architecture and poverty,
supports the emphasis “New Urbanism” places on good design but says
good public policy is equally important.
“Architecture just can’t cure poverty,” she said.
The German-born Jahn came to Chicago in the 1960s to study at IIT.
Illinoisans are probably most familiar with the $172 million State
of Illinois Center he designed in downtown Chicago. Now called the
James R. Thompson Center, the
sloping, glass-paneled building was completed in 1985.
Near North, which would house a mix of existing CHA residents and
homeless people, is expected to cost about $10 million.
“The goal is to take this small project, to make it an efficient
building, to make it a well-designed building and to make it a very
pleasant building to live in,” Jahn said.
On the Net:
Lakefront Supportive Housing: http://www.lakefrontsro.org/index.html
Chicago Architecture Foundation: