Wrightwood 659 / Tadao Ando Architect and Associates
Tucked into Chicago’s historic Lincoln Park neighbourhood north of Downtown, an unassuming new Tadao Ando-designed gallery opened in late 2018 with minimal fanfare. On a tree-lined street of historic Chicago-style apartments and sprawling single family townhomes, sits Wrightwood 659, a new gallery space dedicated to exhibiting architecture and socially engaged art. Originally built in 1929, the renovation breathed new life into the four-story apartment block, now a contemporary five-story gallery space anchored by a multi-story atrium. Ando’s renovation of the building can hardly be seen by the untrained eye, gracefully fading into the fabric of the street.
Owned by the Alphawood Foundation, founded by American entrepreneur and philanthropist Fred Eychaner, Chairman of Newsweb Corporation, Wrightwood 659 was built for an undisclosed amount, and sits immediately east of a private residence Ando designed for Eychaner years ago. Known to Chicagoans as the Eychaner Lee House, the residence is remarkably difficult to see from the street, due to an expansive concrete wall running the length of the property, with access through only one small door. The house has carved out a place as one of Chicago’s favourite pieces of contemporary architecture, having played host to the Obamas, the Clintons, and many more dignitaries.
It comes as no surprise that Eychaner would turn to Ando for Wrightwood 659, simultaneously creating the ideal location from which to look at his Pritzker-winning architect-designed home. A stunning adaptive reuse, the design for Wrightwood 659 called for the complete demolition hollowing out of the building’s interior, creating an opportunity for one of Ando’s signature architectural interventions with concrete and glass. Recalling Ando’s adaptive reuse of a former Italian Customs building at Punta della Dogana in Venice, the design for Wrightwood 659 preserves the building’s exterior meticulously. Only at night is the renovation evident, when lights illuminate the building’s striking central staircase and atrium to passersby.
Inside, a new axis is formed against the building’s north-south parti, with a concrete slab and adjoining staircase bisecting the rectilinear space, introducing circulation to the four-story atrium. From all floors, visitors can look outside through the original windows at all levels. Brick along the interior is exposed and lit gracefully, juxtaposed perfectly with cured polished concrete, stainless steel, and glass details. White cube galleries on each floor offer flexible spaces to exhibit work, while long corridors to the western edge offer rare views into Ando’s neighboring house, showcasing a courtyard that lies behind the residence’s fortuitous concrete wall.
On the building’s new fifth floor, Ando’s intervention is particularly unique. Setback from the street so as to avoid disrupting the vernacular of the neighbourhood, a glass-enclosed gallery rises above adjacent buildings to provide views in all directions. A generous balcony and floor-to-ceiling windows introduce a new, contemporary language to the adaptive reuse, while Ando’s signature polished concrete continues the building’s raw energy in the penthouse gallery space. In the gallery, a long, skinny skylight slices the ceiling open to the sky, bringing daylight into a lofted two-story space carved out by Ando to accommodate larger artworks.
In true Ando fashion, the building’s details are what make Wrightwood 659 a sublime architectural experience. Each stair tread, each concrete seam, each meeting of glass and brushed steel is perfectly executed with the level of precision for which Ando has become known. Gone are the original floorplates, replaced with solid slabs with stone and hardwood finishes; original walls replaced with crisp white walls which meet expansive resurfaced brick throughout the atrium. Lighting features can barely be seen, hidden in recesses of brick, concrete, and steel, yet the space remains perfectly illuminated at all hours.
Accommodating more than just exhibitions, the 35,500 square foot building is also home to educational spaces, with the aim to become a vital part of Chicago’s civic fabric through contributions to the broader creative community.
Now open to the public, Wrightwood 659 will host two exhibitions annually, with its first shows including a retrospective on Le Corbusier and Tadao Ando, and an exploration into Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei. In Spring 2019, the United States exhibition from the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture will open at Wrightwood 659.
|ARCHITECT||Tadao Ando Architect & Associates|