Courtesy of HDR Architecture

Public architecture in Chicago has not always received rave reviews. "Is it just value engineering? Is it not racism? Is it not sexism? Who withholds good design?" asked famed architect and strident critic Stanley Tigerman, FAIA, in 2003. Now, a decade later, developers are using market research and a great deal of public input to customize a project for neighborhoods in the city's West and Southwest Sides—areas that have been plagued by unemployment and low income in recent years.

In an effort to revitalize several poorer Chicago communities, HDR Architecture is planning a public development with a nonprofit hospital at the heart of the mixed-used campus. The Focal Point Community Campus anticipates urgent and changing healthcare needs by creating a master plan that links the hospital directly to approximately 400,000 residents in the North Lawndale, South Lawndale, Little Village, Pilsen, Back of the Yards, Bridgeport, and Austin neighborhoods.

Credit: Courtesy of HDR Architecture
Credit: Courtesy of HDR Architecture

Research shows that 48 percent of the residents in the service areas surrounding the campus earn less than $15,000 annually, which is the federal poverty level for a two-person household. A striking 69 percent of residents in the northern service area for the hospital earn less than $15,000. (The map above shows these service areas.) In an effort to mitigate the area's high rates of unemployment and low income, Focal Point is expecting to create 2,100 construction jobs, along with several hundred more jobs predicted in retail, according to Guy A. Medaglia, president and CEO of Saint Anthony Hospital, in a Chicago Southwest Development Corp. (CSWDC) press release.

HDR partnered with Chicago-based real estate developer Jones Lang LaSalle and market research consulting firm August Partners from Marietta, Georgia to design Focal Point, after the CSWDC initiated the project.

"The Chicago Southwest Development Corp. is the organization that spearheaded the Focal Point project, but the community has been involved in the entire planning process," says Jacinda Adams, CSWDC'S director of marketing and public relations. CSWDC is a nonprofit organization established by Saint Anthony Hospital in 2012 that provides support for health care programs and services in the region surrounding the hospital.

"Saint Anthony Hospital is the gem of the campus," Adams says, highlighting the prominence of the hospital within the one-million square-foot complex. The hospital, a nonprofit healthcare provider for neighborhoods in Chicago's West and Southwest Sides, will move from its current location in Douglas Park to Little Village and continue to provide emergency and medical care to patients regardless of financial capability.

Credit: Courtesy of HDR Architecture

In a document outlining plans for the campus, HDR described the challenges the firm is facing from a planning perspective in these urban, lower-socioeconomic communities: "With pressure from healthcare reform and other outside sources, these hospitals often find themselves struggling to serve their communities while maintaining their growth and profits."

To address the lack of access to quality healthcare in the West and Southwest Sides of Chicago, Focal Point will offer healthcare services and wellness programs with its "community-centric hospital" that mixes elements of medical care with fitness and health care education "on a large scale," according to the HDR plan. Although Saint Anthony Hospital will serve as the heart of the campus, the idea behind the design is that healthy living extends beyond the issue of healthcare. Focal Point is a planned community catering to the complete well-being of its residents.

In addition to the Saint Anthony Hospital, Focal Point will provide educational, recreational, retail, arts, and cultural opportunities to community members. The complex takes a layered approach to urban development in an effort to attract residents to receive Saint Anthony's quality healthcare, based on the hospital's close proximity to other features. The hospital, retail options, community centers, charter and vocational schools, meeting rooms, and event facilities will occupy various floors of the same tower structure. The central tower is surrounded by green spaces providing additional recreational opportunities like gardens and sports fields.

Credit: Courtesy of HDR Architecture

Focal Point is planned to be a financially self-sustaining community in which profits from rental income of the for-profit businesses will supplement the financial needs of the nonprofit organizations, making the plan a "viable solution," Adams says.

"This project offers a non-profit approach to development—which is quite unique," says HDR vice-president Tom Trenolone, AIA. "[Focal Point] will be self-sustainable as long as the model works with the amount of retail."

Focal Point has already received recognition for its innovative design. In July 2013, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Academy of Architecture for Health (AAH) awarded HDR the 2013 National Healthcare Design Award in the Master Planning Urban Design for Healthcare Settings category. The AIA/AAH judging panel who chose HDR for the award commented that the community "represents a trend for health and community integration especially within urban environments."

The HDR submission to the AIA/AAH explains how the Focal Point community plans will respond to changes in the healthcare industry: "Gone are the days of the monolithic hospital complex, looming above its neighbors," perhaps referring to the controversial demolition of the Prentice Women's hospital.

"This project opens up new opportunities for people to engage in a system that has never existed," Trenolone says. "We've had a hard time finding any precedent to this project."