This may be the best dollar ever spent on Chicago’s South Side.
In 2012, Theaster Gates bought an abandoned building from the city of Chicago for $1, a 20,000-square-foot bank built in 1923. The skylights had collapsed, and the interior was badly damaged from years of snow and rain. It, like many other derelict buildings in this area of Chicago, seemed destined for the wrecking ball until Gates stepped in.
Gates, an artist and urban planner who set up his studio on the South Side in the early 2000s, is working to remake the neighborhood. His nonprofit, the Rebuild Foundation, has a mission of “helping neighborhoods thrive through culture-driven redevelopment by activating abandoned spaces with arts and cultural programming.”
The renovation of the bank is the Rebuild Foundation’s most ambitious undertaking yet.
Related on Yahoo Makers: Empty Church Gets Modern Makeover, Becomes Gorgeous Minimalist Home
Recast as a contemporary art gallery, events space, community center, and library archive, the new Stony Island Arts Bank now serves as the Rebuild Foundation’s home base, and just opened as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, a three-month-long festival on design. Construction is complete, but details from the bank’s past (blistered paint, the rusted vault, the cracked plaster moldings) have been preserved to create a dialogue with the past.
The basement will be a music venue, the ground floor a bar and gallery, the second level the Rebuild Foundation’s library and community space, and the upper story the home for the vinyl archive of Frankie Knuckles (renowned as the “Godfather of House Music”). The University of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago will keep their slide libraries at the Arts Bank.
The building and all of its resources are open to the public. It’s quickly become, in the words of Co.Design, “a sort of living room for the neighborhood.”
“Architecture becomes a complex envelope that can carry both the high and the low, the international and the very local, the rich and the poor,” Gates told Co.Design. “Only when those things start to conflate in really beautiful ways can we have a redemptive architecture … when lots of very different kinds of people feel like they can go into a building and that the building would be welcoming to them.”
It’s a brave example of how renovation can revitalize an entire neighborhood — even a place that Gates affectionately refers to as “the middle of the hood — make no doubt about it.”
Bravo to Gates and to all the makers and doers that could make such a thing even possible.
Also on Yahoo Makers: