One of this year’s all-precast concrete design award winners does more than provide a new building for the community. The Burnham at Woodlawn Park in Chicago, Ill., led by the Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) project, replaces an obsolete and distressed public housing project, with a beautiful, vibrant, mixed-use, mixed-income senior living center, that is breathing new life into a struggling neighborhood.
“The original site suffered from significant design flaws and concentrated poverty that had become a barrier to investment in the surrounding blocks, creating a spiral of disinvestment in the area says Catherine Baker, of Landon Bone Baker Architects, the architect for the project.
When her team was brought onto the project, they wanted to design a building that could become a centerpiece for the community that would spur further interest and investment—and they had to do it within a relatively tight budget. Baker's team chose a total precast concrete solution to achieve the necessary cost-saving and durability goals, with a sophisticated look and lots of amenities.
The design features contrasting shades of white concrete, gray brick, and playful orange in a random pattern to minimize the scale and connect the building with the surrounding gardens. “Precast concrete gave us the opportunity to create different textures and materials to create a really nice layered composition on the façades,” she says. “Rather than impersonating brick, the exposed precast concrete panels express its construction method and materiality with a depth of color and texture.”
The precast concrete design also delivered many structural benefits that were equally important to the owner. Due to the ultimate use of the building as a senior housing project, the inherent fire-resistant qualities of the precast are ideal for buildings of this type, Baker says.
Site security, a chief issue while the previous public housing development occupied the site, is also addressed through the promotion of visibility from within the building via floor-to-ceiling glazing on the entirely public first floor, shared outdoor porches dispersed throughout the residential floors, and an abundance of in-unit windows. "Precast concrete's design flexibility allowed the construction to support these features in an integrated, cost-effective way," she says.
In addition to providing senior housing, the building also houses POAH's management and maintenance for their surrounding properties and a community resource center that is leased out to a local nonprofit. "Precast allowed for open spans in these areas, so that the spaces could be flexible and reconfigured as needs and programs changed," she says.
The five-story building now provides 65 seniors with a healthy home, headquarters for POAH's management and operations, and a Resource Center to serve the once marginalized community. "The building has set a high design standard for the redevelopment of the neighborhood, showcasing developments that are safe, attractive, and cost-effective," Baker says. "The building carefully blends into and enriches the surrounding neighborhood and promotes a wider transformation."
"The utilization of precast concrete construction is preserving affordability while providing high-quality architecture and amenities that is enhancing the entire community for current and future residents." Catherine Baker, Landon Bone Baker Architects.