The evocative eleven-story apartment building in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood made news by filling every unit within six months after opening its doors even though it offers no on-site parking or even easily accessible street parking. That’s because the 1611 West Division project is at the forefront of an eco-friendly real estate trend known as transit-oriented development (TOD). Situated 300 feet from the Blue Line train entrance and steps away from bus routes, 1611 West Division is dedicated to reducing traffic congestion and air pollution in its outreach to mass transit users, bicyclists and pedestrians.
“We designed 1611 West Division to meet the functional and aesthetic needs of an active and mobile community,” says Jon Heinert, architect with Wheeler Kearns. Long recognized for the thoughtful design of schools and private residences in and around Chicago, Wheeler Kearns brings its core values to this project. Sleek, multi-faceted, modern and sustainable, 1611 West Division reflects the needs and wants of its diverse Wicker Park neighborhood. “The building’s structure, the interior of Intelligentsia’s new coffee bar, and the art installation recently unveiled on the west wall provide changing perspectives and greater texture as residents approach, engage and explore,” adds Heinert.
The 99-unit apartment building represents the city’s first TOD which includes a mix of offices and retail space integrated into the neighborhood around Polonia Triangle. Residents can take advantage of an eclectic public plaza and busy transportation hub. They are close to bike lanes, a Divvy bike-sharing station, and the iGO car-sharing service. From a distance, the building creates a two-dimensional graphic landmark. The folded façade, comprised of staggered, non-repeating panels of metal and glass, captures the movement and energy of the bustling neighborhood. The pattern provides unique views for tenants of each apartment unit and optimizes solar exposure. As pedestrians approach the building, the façade reveals greater depth and texture.
The Intelligentsia store on the building’s first floor-also designed by Wheeler Kearns—similarly fits the active, artsy community. A clean Nordic interior reveals varying uses of Douglas Fir, from the natural tones of the “clamshell” coffee bar, to the white stained vertical strips that contain the seating area, and the ebonized hue of the display case. Natural wood contrasts well with the façade’s progressive urban feel.
To highlight Intelligentsia’s commitment to the arts and the neighborhood, the company plans to sponsor works from local artists for a 92’ by 27’ space on the west-facing wall of the building. The first installation, appeared in conjunction with the store opening, is Antonia Contro’s “Scorza,” (which means “skin” in Italian). A digital print, adapted from a watercolor of tree bark, “Scorza,” becomes a new skin on the building’s west wall, and reveals increasing depth and texture to viewers approaching from the west. The organic material represented in the artwork also forms an interesting contrast with the technical aesthetic—the metal and glass exterior—of the building. Wheeler Kearns, which helped curate the work, believes “Scorza” will initiate a dialogue between the building, the art and its community, and further the development of a vibrant cultural corridor along Division and Milwaukee.
Photography: Tom Rossiter