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Ghafari Associates 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.”

Joe Gonzalez is the global director of design at Ghafari Associates. His work in the past 35 years has included international commercial and institutional buildings, the Jesse White Community Center in Chicago and other award-winning projects that engage and enrich communities. His firm’s proposal for CAC’s “Between States” exhibit—which opens Sept. 19—is to transform the existing buildings and parking lots surrounding Guaranteed Rate Field into a vibrant urban destination.

This area has been filled with parking lots for a long time. Why do you think it deserves attention now?

Indeed, the area has been “empty” with parking lots and we find this an unacceptable vacancy that requires intervention as part of an overall master plan for the area. The baseball stadium and its parking requirements are not an excuse to leave a significant number of city blocks vacant for 75 percent of the year. In fact, we view Guaranteed Rate Field as an asset to build on and a catalyst for urban development. With many planned improvements surrounding this site—Lake Meadows, IIT, Michael Reese, among others—it is easy to imagine increased demand for housing/retail/entertainment uses. Additionally, the confluence of transit resources at the site (CTA, Metra) call for additional density consistent with current planning initiatives in the city.

How will you accommodate parking that will be lost to these new uses?

Our proposal will provide 3-4 levels of structured parking on various blocks, which will be “wrapped” by ground floor commercial and residential above. This revitalized neighborhood model, seen across the country, builds on a diverse, mixed-use theme.

Sox fans might judge your answer to this, but are you drawing any inspiration from the area around Wrigley Field?

We are drawing inspiration from multiple successful sports-related venues such as PETCO Park, Staples Center, PNC Park, Camden Yards and oh yes, Wrigley Field.

What are some unique additions you envision here that you haven’t seen elsewhere?

We envision a major civic/sports plaza on 35th Street that serves to welcome White Sox fans and provides a community anchor throughout the year. At the westerly edge of this space, we are proposing an iconic residential high rise to further our place-making objective.

What project have you enjoyed working on most in your career?

There is no one project or project type that stands out. Looking now, it’s the variety of building types, scale and the geography of projects that really interests me. Looking forward, I remain fascinated and inspired by the challenges of site, program, client and culture.

What is one project type you have not worked on yet, but would like to design?

I would like to design a sports/stadium-centric master plan such as the one we are proposing.

How can architects improve the way they work with residents on community-based projects?

Understand that what we do is a fine balance between listening, learning and leading. Architects possess incredible 3D tools that allow communities to see possibilities, good and bad, at early stages of the process. Exploring and communicating 3D options early and often can facilitate communication, ease the tension and often lead to amazing results.

What is Chicago’s biggest built environment challenge?

Developing a balance between the infrastructure of existing outlying residential neighborhoods and ‘in the spotlight’ civic proposals.