Inspiration Kitchens

 Chris-Annmarie  Spencer, AIA

Inspiration Kitchens is an adaptive reuse of an uninhabited 1906 industrial building and improvement of three untended lots for a culinary training center, catering kitchen, and full service restaurant.

Lying just over three miles west of the Loop, East Garfield Park is one of Chicago's hardest hit neighborhoods. Designated as a "food desert" by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, many families in East Garfield Park struggle to provide adequate nutrition and positive social experiences for their children. In the heart of this neighborhood lies Garfield Park, an invaluable asset to the community

The neighborhood is perhaps best known for the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest conservatories in the United States. While this facility attracts huge numbers every year, there is very little else in the area to encourage positive interaction or socializing. The Lake Street stretch west under the El is barren for the most part, with many of the original industrial buildings closed to the street or vacant. As a triple bottom line project, Inspiration Kitchens at Garfield Park targets social, economic, and environmental goals. In support of its primary social focus of providing fresh, healthy food in an urban food desert and job training to at-risk individuals, the project aims for integration within the existing neighborhood by reusing an existing building and emphasizing renewal. Additionally, the project connects to its context and its proximity to Chicago's park and boulevard system by renewing three vacant lots with gardens.

The project involved the renovation and adaptive reuse of a 1906 single story building in the City's East Garfield Park. This 7,800 sq. ft. facility has an 80-seat restaurant that serves subsidized meals to working poor families and market rate meals to the general public; a combination service, catering and training kitchen from which a 13 week food service training program is conducted (enrolling 100 people per year), a meeting room/classroom and administrative/social service offices which support Inspiration Corporation's community outreach programs. The facility also has a sustainable garden that supplies fresh herbs and vegetables for the restaurant and serves as an educational resource for students, local school children and the community. The facility served 12,000 meals during its first operating year, which was 180 percent of the goal set. Rather than respond only to the visible urban context, the design approach responds to the economic and cultural context in a way few projects do.

In a neighborhood that formerly had no sit-down restaurants, highly crafted dining room furniture, made from reclaimed wood, sets the tone for this ambitious project. Boarded-up elements of the original building were uncovered to reconnect the interior with the neighborhood. Saw-toothed skylights, which formerly illuminated a factory floor replete with milling machines, were outfitted with new insulated roof windows that now illuminate the dining room, kitchen, and administrative spaces. Street windows, long ago bricked-in, obscured, and clad with burglar bars, were reinstated and acoustically fortified to allow views to the park while avoiding disturbing noise from the adjacent elevated train line. Interior materials, particularly those in the public dining area, were retained and exposed, endorsing the values of reuse and renewal.

Image credits

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Chris-Annmarie Spencer, AIA

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Chris-Annmarie Spencer, AIA

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