Pullman Artspace Lofts

Chicago, Illinois

When neighborhoods revitalize, full-time artists are often squeezed out by skyrocketing rents. The goal of Pullman Artspace Lofts in the historic Pullman neighborhood on the Far South Side of Chicago is to provide stable housing for working artists in a lively urban community.

“This project demonstrates excellence in adaptive reuse, contextual infill, neighborhood revitalization, and affordability,” comments the CNU Charter Awards jury, which recognized the development. Jury members were also impressed that Pullman Artspace Lofts stem from grassroots demand and change in the neighborhood.

The two existing historic residential buildings on the North and South ends of the site had long been abandoned and were in danger of collapse. The empty site in between the two buildings was infilled with a new building. Photo credit: Nick Ulivieri Photography

The team acquired and renovated two 140-year-old historic structures, and added a third building between them, to create 38 homes where artists can live and work. All the living spaces are affordable and accessible. It also contains a public art gallery and event space so that artists can showcase their work. “The social and cultural impacts of the programming at the art gallery and community event space and having Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives as the operator serve as  stabilizing anchors to the community,” observes the jury.

Built in 1881, the Pullman neighborhood was originally conceived by George Pullman as a company town for his train car factory but was eventually absorbed into Chicago. The district and its existing buildings are recognized as landmarks at the local, state, and national level, and Pullman was designated a National Monument in 2015. Despite its significance, the neighborhood struggled economically in the latter part of the 20th Century, due to the loss of industrial jobs. Pullman is also constrained geographically by Interstate 94 and a rail line. Today, the population is majority African American with an unemployment rate of 17 percent, and a median household income of $36,000. The quality of this renovation and new addition help anchor and stabilize the surrounding Pullman neighborhood, the jury emphasizes.

Seen from above, the Pullman Artspace Lofts architecture addresses all sides of the buildings and is responsive to the site context. Photo credit: Nick Ulivieri Photography

The past ten years have seen Pullman welcome jobs and commercial investment, sustainable industries, and a visitor center, but little new housing. “No new affordable housing or renovation of multifamily dwellings or apartments has taken place in Pullman in more than 60 years, until now,” the team reports.

The design team was challenged to create durable and desirable units that allowed for customization, alongside community and gallery space while preserving and restoring important elements of protected historic landmarks. “The design had to meet these goals on a responsible budget while complementing the architectural heritage of a unique urban place,” the team explains.

The historic buildings were surveyed and fully restored. Photo credit: Nick Ulivieri Photography

This project was deeply informed by community engagement workshops initiated by the stakeholders, architect, and developers. More than 380 artists and community members supported the development of a live-work space for artists and their families.

“The historic buildings that today house Pullman Artspace Lofts had long been neglected and abandoned and faced possible demolition,” notes David Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhoods Initiative. “Today, they are a new home for artists and their families, and the units' affordability is ensured for at least 30 years.”

Historic tax credits made the project financially viable. Details of the new infill building respect the neighborhood heritage: the traditional Pullman door, window, masonry details, and mansard roofs. 

The Pullman Artspace Lofts are in the Pullman National Historic Landmark District, a walkable neighborhood with numerous mass-transit stops. At right, the detailed plan: Building massing and detailing is responsive to the adjacent buildings within the block and neighborhood. Credit: Stantec Architecture Inc.

The urban form of the neighborhood was also respected—re-establishing the street edge and placing the art gallery entrance on the first level of the lofts connects to the grid and reaches out to the public. New, articulated front porches and front yard green spaces emulate the historical character of the neighborhood. 

The development, which opened in 2019, has been well received by residents. "Living here has just been extremely inspiring,” agrees one occupant. “I've been in a lot of lofts in the past and this by far is the best because it's all new. I love the fact that I can exhibit my artworks right here in my home or even in the main building areas.”

View Pullman Artspace Lofts' Charter Awards ceremony video here.

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