Stretching across an entire block in Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood is an unusual brick building that’s part home, part studio, and part creative hub. The 1920s manufacturing building and former mason’s workshop had fallen into disrepair before being transformed into a space that celebrates creative pursuits and community. Known as Facility, it’s a unique undertaking by renowned artist couple Nick Cave and Bob Faust with architect Carlo Parente.
Nick Cave is a fabric sculptor, dancer, and performance artist who is best known for joyful and whimsical work, such as his wearable fabric Soundsuit sculptures. Bob is an artist, designer, and the founder of the cultural branding and communications studio, Faust. The couple founded the Facility arts foundation, which is based on the ground floor, and they live in the second-floor apartment with Bob’s daughter, Lulu.
"Nick drove past the structure and was intrigued by its multibuilding facade and orientation through the block," says Bob. "He made an immediate appointment to get inside and was surprised to see the three buildings opened up into a single, massive space on the first floor, where the flow of the studio could fit. It has a homey and kind of ‘Chicago’ feeling from the outside, but it was adaptable to exactly what we needed."
It needed to be many things—the meticulously considered brief to Parente was for studios for both Nick and Bob, gallery space for installations, performance and public events on the ground floor, and a home and artist-in-residence apartment on the second level.
"The central architectural idea was to allow the spaces—big, boxy volumes characteristic of manufacturing buildings—to be versatile, mutable, and open," says Parente. "I conceived of the entire building as a framework that could be easily manipulated and transformed—a space for working, making, displaying, and performing, as well as living and finding refuge."
"Carlo was our second architect, so we came to him with very developed ideas about how the space needed to function," says Bob. "His role was really in all the details and guiding us on things outside our own expertise. Firstly, the space had to make our workflow seamless; secondly, it had to connect and separate our own studios as well as our home; then it had to function as a neighborhood instigator. We also love the idea of retaining history and memory through the various patinas. There is nothing ‘tricky’ about the project—all the decisions are considered and as simple as we could pull off."
The building comprises three interconnected masonry structures—the original structure (with three storefronts), an adjoining single-story annex, and a garage. There is also a rear courtyard. Facility’s main entrance and storefronts are located on the north facade, while the southern frontage is lined with shipping container fencing that acts as a public art wall.
"The design allows the previously lifeless building to become a part of the civic life of the neighborhood," says Parente. "While these street-facing programmed spaces engage the public realm, simultaneously they act as a buffer, keeping the studio and production spaces private and internal."
The main public entry is located in the annex on the northeast corner. This block contains a library and lounge, as well as Bob’s studio, which has a separate entrance on the southern facade. The original two-story building holds Nick’s studio and a communal washroom and kitchenette, while the adjacent garage serves as a multifunctional space for art production and an event space. "The extensive glazing at the courtyard and along the storefront of Bob’s studio provides ample natural light and beautiful views," says Parente.
The second floor houses the private residential spaces—the artists’ home, as well as an artist-in-residence studio where Nick’s brother, Jack, lives and works. A bedroom and a kitchen form a rectangular block within the home, and the volume in between serves as a gallery wall on one side and a walk-through closet on the other.
The apartment has been designed to accommodate the couple’s large and diverse collection of art. "Every surface is considered for the display of artwork—from the kitchen countertop, to the bathroom floor, to the top of a staircase," says Parente.
The original structural masonry walls—the only full-height walls in Facility—divide the ground floor into separate studio spaces, and the second floor into Nick and Bob’s home and the artist-in-residence studio. All other spaces are delineated by partial walls, which create a light, open atmosphere and encourage freedom of movement. Many of these walls are moveable (both pivoting and sliding), to permit adaptable spaces.
"The lack of enclosed spaces creates an open concept, and the removal of doors and thresholds makes the space feel fluid and function flexibly," says Parente. "Traditional ideas of intimacy, openness, and shared public areas are renegotiated through spatial organization."
A private rooftop deck with a greenhouse/sunroom on the southwest end of the building offers Nick and Bob a space for retreat outside. The deck overlooks the courtyard on the ground floor and has expansive views over the city in the southwest.
"The most rewarding part of the project was the process, which was a true close collaboration," says Parente. "Nick and Bob are dream clients, and working with people as creative as they are forced me to question assumptions and revisit first principles: How can we achieve the architecturally necessary things in an effective, cost-conscious way? How can we redefine the customs that govern typical living spaces? The architecture of Facility isn’t about a style. It is truly about Nick and Bob. The space needed to be for them—and ultimately transformed by them."
"For me, the best part of this space is that its entirety lets me live with my collection of art all around me," says Nick. "I like to say that it’s like waking up in my destiny. So it’s not so much a single space or detail [that I like] as much as it’s how the space takes care of me—and the ideas, things, and people I love."
Architect of Record: Carlo Parente Architecture
Builder: Development Solutions Inc.
Structural Engineer: Louis Shell Structures
Cabinetry Design: Carlo Parente
Millwork Fabrication & Installation: Zak Rose
Library Shelving: Hatch Design + Fabrication
Photographer: Michelle Litvin
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