American Institute of Architects
Photos courtesy Tom Rossiter
CED alumnus and member of the Dean's Advisory Council, Brian Lee (B. Arch ‘76) transformed a 100-year-old decommissioned firehouse into a simple, yet efficient Chicago suburb hat-making workshop and headquarters.
Lee’s design received a 2019 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Interior Architecture Award. Recipients are recognized for creating innovative interior spaces that help shape the cities, places, and spaces in which people live and work.
Lee works for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the world-famous architecture firm known for high-rise commercial buildings including the John Hancock Center, Willis Tower, and Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world to date. Lee’s project for Optimo, a renowned producer of handmade hats, revamped a vacant, shabby firehouse into three-story office and production center in Beverly, Illinois. The location of Optimo’s newest headquarters is the result of a Chicago city program which exchanges empty lots and properties for little more than pocket change in order to incentivize adaptive reuse and development. Optimo’s cost to purchase its new home: one dollar.
The first level of the building is dedicated to manufacturing while the second and third consist of a design studio and offices, respectively.
Lee’s design harnesses a contemporary industrial aesthetic and productive environment, using durable blackened steel, walnut, and cork to furnish the interior. The organization of manufacturing into a single space and the diffusion of electrical steam and compressed air have benefited the efficiency and environmental footprint of Optimo as well.
Despite its transformation, the building still successfully manages to preserve some of its history: the marble previously utilized in showers is now seen in the new kitchen and the antique Chicago Fire Department plaque hangs untarnished. In the second floor design studio, porthole windows replace the original fireman’s pole openings as well.
Look here for more information on Brian Lee and his latest award-winning design.