Bailey Edward is one of 50 design teams featured in CAC’s latest exhibit, which challenged designers to identify a physical asset in the city that could benefit from a redesign and imagine a way to transition it “between states.”
Ellen Bailey Dickson is a founding principal of Bailey Edward, an architectural and engineering practice that she started in 1991. The firm has experience in government, community and educational facilities, all with a focus on transforming the built environment for social good. For CAC’s “Between States” exhibit—which opens Sept. 19—her firm proposed reviving the South Side Masonic Temple at 6300 S. Green St. into a community-focused arts center that would extend out into a vibrant new plaza and mixed-use live/work development.
Why is this building worth saving?
As one of only a few remaining buildings from Englewood’s commercial golden era, the Masonic Temple is a treasure to the entire community’s history. On its own, it is a beautiful historic building whose size alone dominates the central neighborhood landscape, providing potential as a community beacon. As a masonic temple, the building represents the sense of community that has been fleeting for Englewood. Reviving this existing cultural icon makes practical and symbolic sense. With the recent commercial development in the area, there is more impetus than ever to redevelop property at this great transit-oriented location.
There have been many proposals for this site—why do you think an arts center is the best fit?
We approached this project from an analysis of the neighborhood’s needs in pursuit of a well-balanced community. Ward 16’s key needs are educational facilities, job opportunities, affordable housing and retail activity that brings people in from other parts of the city. Our proposal is to create a space where all elements may be achievable. Affordable housing can serve existing and new art-focused residents in a location that is near transit, stores and a community college. In addition, the art community is known to be willing to move to areas that are economically disadvantaged. The creation of music production facilities and performance space provides the opportunity for training and serves as a commercial draw for people outside of the neighborhood. Finally, retail space encourages those people to spend time and money in the community, which creates job opportunities for local residents.
What is your favorite example of adaptive reuse in Chicago?
The Stony Island Arts Bank is a project that is exemplary and used in a similar vein to our proposal for the Masonic Temple. Renovating an existing historic bank building into an arts center repurposes existing cultural infrastructure, creates a space for local residents to take part in and develops a local arts community, while bringing people from across the city into the community to share ideas and interact with a neighborhood they may not have had a reason to visit. As a project, it’s great architecture and great community building that is truly inspiring.
What project have you enjoyed working on most in your career?
Our work on the Ismaili House of Worship in Glenview, Illinois gave us the opportunity to gain insights into a Muslim community, how architectural elements reflect, represent and influence their religious practice, and, ultimately, how difficult it can be for other communities to accept those that aren’t the same. The kindness and spiritual strength that our clients maintained throughout a difficult zoning process was an inspiration to everyone and encouraged us to maintain that attitude in difficult situations.
What is one project type you have not worked on yet, but would like to design?
We have a varied practice, which makes this question difficult to answer. I would answer this in the vein of “What project type would we like to explore more fully?” which would be community-based cultural projects such as museums, theaters and performance centers. These projects have such power to change a community for the better not only from their physical beauty, but from their ability to educate, inspire and activate a community. Hence the reason we are excited about the CAC’s Between States challenge.
What is Chicago’s biggest built environment challenge?
Chicago has a quickly shifting population and economy, creating spaces within the city where the existing density and layout of development is no longer viable to maintain. Our biggest challenge is acknowledging that this change has happened and continues to do so and finding appropriate solutions. The goal is to address the shift in ways that provide sustainable futures for each community and maintain as much cultural heritage as possible. We can’t restore neighborhoods to how they were in the past, but we can direct their development in positive ways for sustainable communities rooted in their unique pasts.
How can architects improve the way they work with residents on community-based projects?
It can be hard to come to a neighborhood that sees you as an outsider dictating design solutions. True community-based design involves a lot of listening to community members and back-and-forth discussion. It involves reaching out to members of the community that may not be able to take the time or effort to come out to evening meetings or participate in a community organization and giving them a voice in the process. This is not always the top priority of the developer, client or business we are working with, and it must fall on the architect to advocate for the community during the design process.