Chicago Building Wins US Building of the Year — Again

John Hill
1. February 2021
Photo: JGMA/ Focal Point

For the second year in a row, a building on Chicago's South Side has received the most votes in our Building of the Year poll on American-Architects.com. In 2019 it was an academic building at Illinois Tech. For 2020 it's the dynamic orange building that Juan Moreno's firm, JGMA, designed for Esperanza Health Centers in the Brighton Park neighborhood.

Is it a coincidence that, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a clinic bringing health services to an underserved community won the 2020 US Building of the Year? Perhaps, but the building JGMA designed for Esperanza Health Centers goes well beyond providing new facilities for the nonprofit. The building covered in metal panels gives Esperanza a significant identity in the neighborhood, and it is a source of pride for area residents. Working in partnership with another nonprofit, Mujeres Latinas en Acción (MLEA), the 26,000-square-foot (2,415 m2) Esperanza Wellness Campus provides spaces for primary care and wellness services, cooking classes, and educational activities, as well as an on-site pharmacy. 

The orange color palette extends into the lobby, which is accessed from the corner (top photo) or via the parking lot on the other side of the building. (Photo: JGMA/ Focal Point)

The building, located at 4700 South California Avenue, opened in May 2019. By the end of the year, more than 10,000 patients had crossed the threshold into the new building, well beyond the expectations of Esperanza, which also operates a few storefront clinics. Speaking with Juan Moreno by phone about the US Building of the Year, he recounted how Esperanza got "an unheard of number of requests from trained medical professionals, many living in the area, who wanted to work there." No doubt the bright building with its angular lines and prismatic cladding aided in spurring these requests. 

Color is used throughout the building to delineate different functions and gradients of public/private. (Drawing: JGMA)

Furthermore, as Moreno told me, the inclusion of a playground outside and community space inside led to situations where, respectively, "people feel good before they enter the facility" and people from the surrounding Latino community "are connecting in positive ways." Like everywhere, things changed last year with the pandemic and protests over racial violence. But the health center responded accordingly, becoming a testing facility for the coronavirus and bringing in artists to create BLM murals. And recently the building has become an important part of Esperanza's efforts to vaccinate its patients against COVID-19.

It's fitting that the 2020 US Building of the Year is a building that balances a strong architectural expression with an even stronger social mission.

The windows follow the angled panels on the facade and bring plenty of natural light inside, as in this waiting area that spans the width of the building. (Photo: JGMA/ Focal Point)

The Building of the Year poll on American-Architects.com was open during the month of January and asked visitors to the website to pick their favorite building from the 42 Buildings of the Week featured in 2020. The Esperanza Wellness Campus won with approximately 20% of the votes. The second and third place buildings, highlighted below, were not far behind, with 16% and 14% of the votes, respectively. Below them were a cluster of three projects that each pulled in around 7.5% of the votes.

Second Place: St. Pete Pier in St. Petersburg, Florida, by ROGERS PARTNERS Architects+Urban Designers. (Photo © 2020 Rich Montalbano / RiMO Photo, LLC)
Third Place: Global Flora in Wellesley, Massachusetts, by Kennedy & Violich Architecture. (Photo courtesy of KVA)
Congratulations to the winner and runners-up, and thanks to you, our readers, for voting!
Previous Building of the Year winners on American-Architects:

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