Uninhibited community center

Wednesday 06 Feb 2008

Gensler designs new LGBT Community Center to bridge communities

Chicago has long been the center of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community for the greater Midwest, and the Center on Halsted at 3656 North Halsted, which opened June 5, 2007 is the Midwest’s largest LGBT community center. Designed by Gensler, the Center enables Chicago’s wide array of LGBT organizations to come together to collaborate, extend their reach, and share resources. Literally tens of thousands will be served each year through the organizations that become partners in this bold project. A highly visible symbol of LGBT pride, the three-story,185,000-square-foot complex houses an entertainment venue, a Whole Foods grocery store, a café, offices for more than a dozen community service partners, a technology center, a gymnasium, a theater, a public roof garden, an underground parking structure, and a number of other unique gathering spaces.

Composed of the restored terra cotta and brick façade of a 1924 building wrapped by a new glass structure, Gensler's design creates a visible neighborhood presence for both the grocery store and the community center, with the historic facade serving as the visual indication of the retail space on the first floor, and the glass composition providing a clear identity for the Center, which is housed on the building's second and third floors.

“The diverse identities of the people who will be using this building inspired our design,” said Jason Longo, one of Gensler’s architectural design directors. “Expressions of transparency, color, pattern, and historic elements reflect diversity while presenting a unified composition.”

The unadorned clear glass façade, which comprises 75 percent of the total façade, exposes the vibrant inner workings of the Center, enlivening the street and fully integrating the Center with the community at large. In a spirit of openness and celebration, programs typically buried within LGBT community centers line the building’s perimeter, such as teen coming out programs located on the Waveland façade. At the same time, the existing façade accommodates private entrances for therapy and other private functions. A set of doors remains open between grocery store and the Center’s soaring lobby during working hours to further the Center's connection to the neighborhood. As the building's owner, the Center collects rent from the retail tenant, helping fund its programs and presenting a new model of private-public partnerships.

The Center serves as a link among diverse organizations that otherwise might not interact, so Gensler designed the building's program around a central corridor that acts as a main street. The top floor of the three-story building includes a double-height space devoted to theater and other performances, while a similarly scaled volume contains a gymnasium with basketball court that opens to the public roof garden.

Setting a new standard for environmentally responsible community centers, the Center is expected to obtain a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. The efficient coordination of the building’s complex mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems for the office, sports, performance, and retail spaces is a major achievement. The Center boasts Chicago’s first rainwater harvesting system, and brick salvaged from the existing building is incorporated as a prominent feature of the building’s lobby atrium, a space shared by both the Center and the Whole Foods Café. In addition, the green roof is planted with drought resistant local plants.

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