Jun 28th 2019

College of Architecture Faculty Wins AIA National Small Projects Award

In May the American Institute of Architects announced the winners of its Small Projects Awards, which recognize high-quality works from small architecture firms and exceptional small local projects. Among this year’s 12 winners is a residential unit renovated by Radutny Architects, a Chicago-based firm led by Vladimir Radutny, an adjunct professor in Illinois Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture.

Radutny’s firm received top honors for projects under 5,000 square feet for its work on a residential unit within the Locomobile Lofts, a former automotive manufacturing and display space nestled on a South Side stretch of Michigan Avenue known as Motor Row. The project was Radutny’s fourth in the building, having previously worked on the Locomobile Loft’s lobby and commons space and fitness room as well as another residence.

Though it’s a property he and his team know intimately, Radutny says working in this particular space offered many challenges. For one, he says the initial impression and transition into an industrial-type space as a residence was subpar, describing poor use of materials, a lack of storage, and oddly laid-out rooms. Making matters worse was the unique, three-dimensional space of the unit, consisting of exceptionally high ceilings and an oddly shaped, lofted second floor.

“Whoever worked on this apartment initially didn’t consider these nuances and the opportunities that they offer,” says Radutny. “When you walked in, it just didn’t make a lot of sense, everything about it was super awkward and uncomfortable.”

Radutny’s approach to make sense of the space was to draft up a design he refers to as “volumetric,” composed of scaled elements that are assembled and arranged according to function. That includes a platform used to better organize the living and kitchen space, a wood-clad section that fills and subjugates the space within the loft area, and a black steel-clad bedroom that feels almost like a building within a building.

According to Radutny, those volumetric elements also helped resolve one of the inherent difficulties with transforming industrial spaces: a lack of insultation from weather and sound in the masonry walls. “In this project we raised the floor and created a platform that defined the edge and organized the perimeter. Our strategy was to pull things off the exterior wall as much as we could and offer the perimeter area to be used for art display, plants, and other life objects,” he explains.

Further, the bedroom’s cave-like design both helps maintain that perimeter from the outer wall and provides isolation from the temperature and noise issues created by a lack of insulation. “It provides this separation but allows light to come through,” says Radutny. “It also acts as an anchor to the main living area, this volume that is detached and allows the space to flow around it rather than terminating into it. So it’s not just a box, but a box programed with function at all sides.”

In compiling the winners for the Small Projects Awards, a jury of five architects review submissions from across the United States. According to Kurt Weaver, jury chair for the awards, the loft was selected as the winner for its category because it was “very much in the spirit of a contemporary sensibility, and very refined. There was an elegance about acknowledging the exiting conditions and embracing them, but then complementing them with an improved design and layout.”

For Radutny, the overwhelmingly positive reception to the project—which was also chosen as a winner for Azure magazine’s annual international design and architecture awards—is both emotional and humbling.

“It was a shock because the pool of people and architects and projects that get submitted from all over the country is just so vast and there is so much amazing work out there,” says Radutny. “At the same time, it was a proud moment that we did something that people could reference and look at as an example of how to deal with certain problems and spatial conditions.”