CoD Reviews Bella Noir Wellness Hub
The Committee on Design has reviewed the Bella Noir Wellness Hub. Planned for a block-long site at 601 E. 47th, the project will redevelop a vacant property into a mixed-use hub that will eliminate community inequities. The building will be the first to benefit from the recently passed eTOD ordinance, bringing it under the TOD radius as it is less than ½ mile from the 47th Green Line stop and less than ¼ mile from the Cottage Grove 4 bus.
Planned by Bella Noir LLC, the hub will include community wellness and fitness space, after school programming, local dining, a farm-to-table program, and 26 units of affordable veterans housing in partnership with the University of Chicago. The Lyric Foundation, which will be initiating some of the programming, will relocate its headquarters into the building.
Tapped for the design, Seek Design + Architecture began its design process with three massing concepts for the project. The first looked at a traditional stacking of commercial on the bottom, offices and non-profit in the middle and the residential units on top. Since this option felt heavy and elongated the block, Option 2 was made into a pyramid where the corners were carved away, stepping back from the corners of the site. This concept, however, did not capture the urban edge well.
The final option looked at a two-tower plan, splitting the residential, office, commercial, and fitness space into two adjacent masses. The form was derived by splitting the towers apart, rotating them to break the city grid, stepping back for terraces, and carving out at the ground floor for entries.
The ground floor will host space for a food and beverage retailer, a pharmacy, lobbies, and 40 parking spaces off the alley. Above that, the 26 residential units will rise within the eastern volume, reaching a final height of 72 feet. A full-size basketball court, medical office space, and the Lyric Foundation will occupy the west tower which will top out at 61 feet.
The building’s massing allows for interaction through the project, seeing the basketball court from the street and from the terraces on the residential tower. Green roofs will cover all the terraces, with urban farming included on some of the larger spaces. A mural of the developer’s mother will adorn the west facade. The building will be clad in black corrugated metal paneling when facing the street, with bronze corrugated metal when it breaks away. Terraces and indents will have wood soffits and walls.
The discussion began with Jeanne Gang, who liked the way the building was carved and responded to daylight. Gang questioned the way the building met the adjacent residential lots behind the alley with a tall, blank wall enclosing the parking and mechanicals, wondering if anything could be done to enhance that transition architecturally. The design team responded that while they addressed the corners along 47th with indents and setbacks, the back of the ground floor was pushed to the property line to fit the necessary program. They discussed a potential solution for stepping that corner back to create planters or a small green space to soften the edge.
Andre Brumfield commended the team on a bold project and appreciated the stepping of the building at the S. St. Lawrence elevation. As Jeanne also noticed, Brumfield noticed that the east elevation doesn’t have the same level of sensitivity as the upper floors step back. The design team responded that the residential units needed a 30-foot setback, limiting their ability to gently step the floors back like on the other side. However, the massing carves inward from top to bottom, creating deeper insets on the lower residential floors.
Casey Jones questioned the ambitious programming planned for the small triangular outdoor space on the ground floor and commented that it isn’t much wider than the sidewalk. Jones suggested that they acknowledge it as a nice, landscaped respite or rely on street trees to provide greenery and make it more of a hardscape plaza for outdoor dining or space for one or two farmers market stalls. The design team said that they have discussed how to allocate more space for a farmers' market while still meeting program requirements.
Leon Walker asked about the choice of corrugated metal for the facade and brought up concerns over the maintenance of the fasteners. The design team responded that their idea of draping the building with something not so heavy led them to the corrugated metal after exploring brick as an option. The metal will allow for a play with shadow and light which matches the priorities of the design and will add texture to the exterior. They are also actively looking into the installation and manufacture of the panels and working with their general contractor Powers and Sons Construction to ensure a high-quality installation.
The final comment came from Maria Villalobos who asked whether the sidewalk could be made wider in front of the western half of the building as the existing sidewalk narrows. Villalobos commented that even five feet would allow for a wider walkway that would allow for new street trees that would enhance the frontage. The design team liked her suggestion and commented that the street gets wider there for an existing bus stop.
While exact details are not available, the project will likely be going through a rezoning process for the site in the near future. A timeline for approvals and construction has not been announced.
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