Located on Chicago’s Near North Side, Parkside of Old Town is part of the ongoing redevelopment of the former Cabrini Green housing project. Elm 551 at Parkside is a three-building apartment complex that offers a mix of market-rate, low-income, and Chicago Housing Authority units.
The 102 units range in size from studios to three bedrooms. The seven-story, midrise structure has 69 apartments, laundry facilities, a fitness center, office space, and common areas. The remaining 33 residential units are located in three-story “flats.”
The midrise building is the tallest. It is rectangular with an angled roofline that adds a dynamic aesthetic and forms a subtle V-shape. Light-gray precast concrete panels wrap the building and contrast with interspersed green, yellow, and orange accents. The contemporary design of the two walk-up buildings is similar to the design of the midrise structure, but the walk-ups incorporate a darker-gray color scheme and a more textured set of concrete panels.
“As part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation on the site of the former Cabrini-Green housing project, Elm 551 at Parkside shifts from the old, high-rise public housing model to one of mid- and low-rise mixed-income housing,” says Peter Landon, FAIA, principal, LBBA. “The goal of the project design was for community-based, urban, sustainable, and well-designed buildings that say ‘housing’ rather than ‘affordable housing,’” he adds.
Cabrini Green was infamous for being a troubled housing development, but residents still shared a sense of community. As part of the ongoing redevelopment effort, the project’s goal is to use lower-density development, greater income diversity, and shared amenities to attract demographically diverse residents and rebuild the sense of community in this neighborhood. The seven-story building is located on a corner, and the remaining perimeter of the entire block is lined with the three-story walk-up apartments, all of which face the street and open to a central, landscaped parking area. The secure front and open space in the back give the entire block a shared identity within the larger community.
Less than 4 miles from downtown Chicago, Elm 551 located near several schools, shopping, and public transportation. The Chicago Transit Authority’s Brown, Red, and Purples train lines are within ½ mile of the site, and several main bus lines serve the neighborhood.
With all affordable developments, accessibility, employment, sustainability, and budgetary requirements ultimately affect the overall design of the development. Precast concrete is an excellent technology for family housing due to its superior sound resistance, its resistance to fire, mold, and insects, and its structural integrity. Typically, the costs of precast concrete building materials are competitive with material costs for other types of systems, and the construction time saved with precast concrete can result in significant overall cost savings (5% to 8%).
Repetition is integral to precast concrete construction, so the project team carefully studied both the midrise and low-rise building designs to maximize the use of repeating elements, typical window sizes, and the creative use of a few simple concrete formliners in concert with flat panels and color in all the buildings. The designs provided scale, texture, a solid presence, and complexity to the development while controlling costs. The team took great care to control air and water infiltration, install proper insulation, and make careful mechanical and ventilation choices. The result is affordable, sustainable, and easily maintainable buildings.