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This Reclaimed Factory's Got Class

Colorful. Comfortable. Inviting. Not adjectives that describe your typical vocational school building. What was originally a nondescript brick hardware equipment factory built in 1908 on Chicago’s southwest side was gutted, cleaned up, and transformed into a modern training center. The goal of Chicago Center for Arts and Technology (CHICAT), which opened in 2017, is to connect technology, art, and the community.

To get to class, CHICAT students – low-income adults and teenagers – head down a tree-lined, trellised walkway through native landscaping, and up a staircase leading to a glass-enclosed entrance and art gallery where the old loading dock once stood. Inside, they study everything from 3-D design to food lab inspection. Between classes, if the weather’s good, they can go back outside to socialize in one of the center’s two outdoor courtyards.

CHICAT is solid but not stodgy. It features multi-colored, spacious workshops and design studios. Original wood ceilings and salvaged wood panels coexist with walls and floors that are a mix of bright oranges, greens, and blues. Large windows overlooking the city add abundant natural light.

During the renovation, the building was upgraded top to bottom for energy efficiency. For example, the roof now has solar panels and a reflective coating. Occupancy sensors make sure lights are turned off when a room is vacant. A new layer of insulation added to both roof and walls keeps heat in on cold winter days. The school’s low-flow fixtures provide water efficiency as well, and non-toxic paints and glues maximize indoor air quality.

Landon Bone Baker Architects headed the creative redesign and achieved LEED Gold status for the building.

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