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Architect's Take On Resistance to Planned Armitage Walgreens

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The proposed design for a new Walgreens store on Armitage has generally received negative feedback. The question is why? Is it the actual design, the relentless expansion of Walgreens, defense of the treasured character of Armitage, or is there a deeper underlining issue that strikes a nerve with neighbors and visitors alike? To get a better understanding of the situation, Curbed reached out to Ted Theodore of Camburas & Theodore, Ltd. who is responsible for the design. Here's what he had to say:

Curbed: What are your thoughts on the community meeting held on the 8th of April? Has there been resolution?

I am always pleased when people care enough about their built environment to speak out at neighborhood meetings. Regardless of differing opinions, it is good for architecture and good for the community. Although the negative feedback outweighed the positive, the neighbors were never rude, unprofessional or disrespectful, and that's all we ask for. I commend Alderman Smith for monitoring the meeting in an orderly manner. I understand their concerns and I certainly appreciate their passion — they care and that's a good thing. Regarding resolution, many different issues were discussed and not just the design. Our team listened carefully to all of the feedback and is committed to working through the various issues in a way hopefully amenable to everyone concerned.

Curbed: Some have called it a 'Modernist eye-sore' (that the front is too contemporary). Architecture is designed for time and place. Do you feel this design does that?

Your question is about contextualism. This is always a sensitive subject. Yes, it would have been easier for me and less stressful for my client if we designed a neo Victorian building, and perhaps there may have been less opposition to the design, but successful contextualism is about a dialogue with the past, not mimicry. Our intent was never to imitate but rather to let our design speak not only to the past, but also to the present and perhaps the future. We were very sensitive to the design fabric of the neighborhood throughout the entire design process and we did let various themes influence our design. We want to respect the past but bring something fresh to the conversation. This is a very thoughtful and somewhat playful design, and we are very excited about it.

Curbed: This particular design and the public's reaction to it reminds of the Spertus Institute episode on Michigan Avenue. Many of the same who criticized the exterior began to praise it once they visited. Do you feel this project may have the same effect at a smaller scale?

I hope so, that would be nice. I hope those in opposition remain open-minded and let the process unfold, I am very confident about what we have created.

Curbed: Our understanding is that this particular parcel was exempt from the requirements of the Historic District, but was the plan ever presented in front of Commission on Chicago Landmarks?

Our particular site is not technically a designated a landmark, but it does fall in the middle of the Landmark district. Regardless, we did carefully adhere to Landmarks Ordinance and criteria for buildings in a landmark district. We did meet with Landmarks and did incorporate their feedback into our design. Throughout my presentation to the neighborhood, I did try to exhibit how our proposed design respects Landmarks criteria for new construction. By no means is their (Landmarks) criteria a recipe for design, but they do "encourage excellence in contemporary design that does not imitate, but rather compliments existing architectural and environmental characteristics of the subject property or district". Their criteria also speak to the compatibility of site shape, size and characteristics, design characteristics respecting the general historic character, and material compatibility.

Curbed: Many are worried about Truck loading; were studies done to account for this?

We did prepare an exhibit specifically about truck loading. Several residents had concerns about hours of loading, etc. and representatives from Walgreens spoke to these issues and are committed to working with the neighbors on all of their issues.

Curbed: Was there ever a possibility of saving the previous church structure and re-using it for this purpose?

No.

Curbed: Your firm will be designing a Zero Energy Walgreens in Evanston; was any of that technology introduced for the Armitage location? Can you also speak a bit about the technology involved?

Many people are not aware, but Walgreens does typically incorporate sustainable product and technology in all of their stores. This site is no different. No, it will not be a "Net Zero" store, but we will incorporate sound sustainable design practices with all of the material and system selections.

Curbed: Are there any other thoughts you would like to share?

The success of our design is very reliant upon its execution in the built form, and, it is very comforting knowing Centaur Co., the Design Build Contractor, is in charge here. Their passion for building quality buildings is quite impressive, as is their portfolio of completed work. They have been closely involved throughout the entire design process and their input has been insightful and invaluable.
So does the actual Architectural design strike the nerve? Or is it the idea of allowing a chain establishment to join in on the fun?

·New Renderings of LP Walgreens Store Ruffle Some Feathers [Curbed Chicago]
·Camburas & Theodore [Official]

—Conrad Jacob Szajna