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A look at Chicago’s Arts and Recreation Center at Ellis Park

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After a decade in the works, the new south side facility opened its doors to residents earlier this year

Images courtesy of Booth Hansen

Located at the intersection of 35th and Cottage Grove, the Bronzeville Arts and Recreation Center at Ellis Park spent over a decade in planning and development before it could welcome residents this spring. Offering both athletic facilities as well as arts and educational programming previously unavailable to the neighboring area, the free facility comes from private developer Community Builders and is operated by the Chicago Park District.

To best address its surroundings and present a more inviting human scale, the design divides the center’s largest rooms—the gymnasium and the pool—into two angled wings that respectively align with 35th Street to the north and Cottage Grove to the east. The center of the structure houses the lobby space and is oriented in line with the diagonal axis of Vincennes Avenue to the south.

“The building’s design emphasizes openness, natural light, and positive energy,” said George Halik, principal at Booth Hansen. Halik and his team led the design of the project in collaboration with Chicago’s NIA Architects, who served as architect of record. “We tried to make it as open to the outside as possible through the use of windows—something not commonly used in gyms and pools—to tie everything to the community. People outside can see what’s going on inside and they want to be there.”

Because all of the building’s activity spaces revolve around the lobby and are internally visible, visitors are encouraged to explore the structure. “Once you get inside the building, the idea is that you can see into these various rooms and feel like you can go visit and use these places,” explained Halik.

Designed to optimize both horizontal and vertical interconnectivity, the lobby also leads to the building’s outdoor roof deck. Located under a bright yellow trellis, the elevated space serves as a visual bridge between the building’s two taller masses and gives the Arts and Recreation Center a playful and unique sense of identity.

Constructed using pre-cast concrete, tilt-up walls—not uncommon from what’s typically used in industrial buildings—the structure was conceived with affordability, sustainability, and ease of maintenance in mind. High efficiency mechanical systems, a green roof, and automatically controlled LED lighting work together to see the building exceed energy codes.

The Arts and Recreation Center provides a much-needed amenity and meeting place for the residents of Bronzeville, North Kenwood, and Oakwood. The center, combined with an upcoming pedestrian and cycling bridge under construction at 35th street, looks to play an important role in the ongoing revitalization of Chicago’s South Side.