In 2009, the owners of Inspiration Kitchens were seeking to help revitalize an impoverished Chicago neighborhood by repurposing a vacant industrial building into a restaurant and training center. They chose a former metalworking machine parts factory/warehouse which abuts the Green Line el train in Garfield Park. Before renovating the crumbling 1906 structure, construction workers had to pry the burglar bars off the windows. Self-sufficiency and sustainability were the watchwords that governed the project. Since 2011, when the restaurant opened its doors, it has provided jobs and taught culinary skills to the homeless and unemployed.
To top off the greenery, Inspiration Corporation planted five trees in front of the restaurant on Lake Street.
Green Upgrade Details
The redesign of Inspiration Kitchens’ 7,300-square-foot building called for nothing less than a wholesale modernization of the century-old plant. Existing roofing and sawtooth skylights were left in place, but enhanced with two more roof layers: a foam layer and a reflective white epoxy coating. Rooftop solar thermal collectors were fastened on the south face of the skylights to power the hot water system, alleviating the high costs of heating water for dishwashing. The building’s brick walls were also insulated.
The skylights direct natural light into the dining hall below. The well-lit kitchen features water-saving sink fixtures. High-efficiency exhaust hoods over the stoves only run when they sense a certain amount of heat or smoke during cooking.
Examples of materials selected for properties such as recyclability and resiliency abound at the LEED Gold structure. The eatery’s tables and counters are made of reclaimed barn wood, and are refurbished periodically by carpenters-in-training from Chicago’s Revolution Workshop.
Recycled wood pieces decking the interior walls provide a rustic atmosphere and keep noise levels down. Further noise reduction is due to double-insulated windows facing the train tracks, and to the super-insulated roof and walls.
Although squeezed into a tight urban setting, the restaurant has its own edible garden, yielding seasonal vegetables that pop up in salads and comfort food dishes. Hidden under the parking lot is a reservoir that collects rainwater.
Wheeler Kearns Architects
The Heartland Construction Group