District House: Artful urban residences

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By Garret Eakin


I am excited about this new project on Lake Street. Ranquist Development Group has secured the site and commissioned an eloquent residential block that may be the new gold standard for future residential projects. This is a perfect example of the rule, "Hire a good architect and developer and you will get architecture as a product." It is such a simple notion — why can't we exercise this idea on a regular basis? 

The project, to be known as District House, describes the location within the Ridgeland Historic District at Lake Street and Euclid Avenue. This busy intersection is defined by the four-story, midcentury-modern, brick-and-stone AT&T Building to the west and a five-story condominium building to the east. Across the street, a six-story mixed retail and apartment structure completes the intersection. This plan seeks to complete the empty Tasty Dog site with a complete mass and void composition to create a sense of place. 

The Ranquist Group has a long history of completing beautiful modern residential structures. Their designs are sympathetic to the grander picture, responding to the urban context. The pair of architects, Northworks (Chicago) and Miller Hull (Seattle) working for Ranquist Development Group (Chicago), have put together a proposal dubbed "Gateway to Lake Street" by Austin DePree of Northworks. The building is designed specifically for the corner lot, what we call "site specific" or "contextual." Brian Court of Miller Hull says, "This strategy creates a respectful relationship with the adjacent eclectic properties." The scale of the proposed architecture was an idea to build on, unifying the partee. 

The neighbor to the west, the AT&T building, was built of brick and stone with very little glass. The energy code for this project calls for 40% glass. The glass and aluminum curtain wall integrates 4-feet-deep solar shades, protecting the transparent walls from sunlight and storms. A small green courtyard is created between the two masses to relieve the contrasting forms — a large reveal, if you will. The connection between the buildings creates a human-scaled moment on the street. Also, the LED-designed building will have 10,000 sf of green roof to help mitigate heat gain. 

The handsome building façade, in contrast to the AT&T bricks, is glass, floor to ceiling with 4 feet of cantilevered solar shades providing shade, recalling the Prairie School's horizontality on the expansive glass. The building footprint is monumental on the façade while the east elevation breaks down to better relate to the existing single-family homes in detail and pattern. 

The bay windows also recall the four-story residential block across the street, reinforcing the contextual interest. Twenty-eight grade-level parking spaces are concealed behind the retail, elevator and fire stair. Residential lobby and garage door are located to the north, providing privacy from the single-family residences. The Euclid Avenue elevation will be faced in charcoal Roman brick with traditional punched-out windows. The pattern reduces the amount of glass in the bedroom spaces, allowing for the all-glass façade.

The primary purpose of the 4-foot cantilevers is to provide shade for the expansive glass facades. The resulting horizontal expression helps strengthen the relationship with the Prairie style.

The residential units have 10-foot ceilings with floor to ceiling glass in the open living room, dining area and kitchen. The classically composed rooms are beautifully detailed and trimmed out with modern detail and materials. Integrated within the glass façade is a continuous light shelf that provides shade in the summer months and reflects light in the winter. Bedrooms and baths are located in the back in more intimate space with the punched or casement windows better related to the single-family residences north of the project. The four-story bow windows repeat the language of the Lake Street façade at a more traditional scale in a monochromatic color scheme. 

This will no doubt be more on the high end of new condominiums in Oak Park. The residences provide buyers with an exciting new choice. Judging from the other projects completed by this team, we have something special to anticipate. 

It raises the bar in this architecture town.

Garret Eakin is an architect, architecture journalist, and adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute. 


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Brian Souders  

Posted: July 19th, 2016 3:57 PM

In all, it looks like a nice new modern addition to OP. But to me, the mass structures with the punched out windows in this rendering looks likes some of the worst post-war unimaginative apartment buildings all over central Oak Park. I hope its the renderings or will be upgraded for completion.

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