Shifting its awards program online for the first time, the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects on Friday will present honors for a wide range of buildings, many of which encourage a sense of community at a time when the coronanavirus pandemic has forced people apart.

Among the winners are a colorful North Side building that combines a public library and public housing, by John Ronan Architects; the headquarters of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture; and a renovation that transformed the Chicago Transit Authority’s Garfield elevated station into a gateway for its South Side neighborhood, by EXP.

“This year’s entries represented a return to community-first ideas, spurred by the lessons this tumultuous year has quite uncompromisingly taught,” the awards jury said in a news release, an apparent reference to the COVID-19 pandemic and the unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

The awards typically are presented in gala ceremonies at Navy Pier, but the health crisis has forced the event, called the Design Excellence Awards, to go online for the first time in its 65-year history.

Juries of architects winnowed 212 entries down to 39 projects that were recognized in three categories: distinguished building, interior architecture, and divine detail, which honors a specific aspect of a project. While the honored buildings are all designed by Chicago architects, some are in other cities.

Many of the winners are relatively small in scale compared with the attention-getting high-rises under construction downtown. Modernist work dominates the list of winners, but it reflects how modernism has evolved since the 1960s to become more responsive to its urban surroundings and to social and environmental issues.

In the distinguished building category, four projects are receiving an honor award, the highest form of recognition.

They are the Ronan firm’s Independence branch of the Chicago Public Library, which is combined with housing for senior citizens; the Columbia College Student Center, by the Chicago office of Gensler; the Wolcott School Arts and Athletics Center, by Lothan Van Hook DeStefano Architecture; and the University of Cincinnati Health Services Building, by Perkins and Will.

Twelve projects are winning a citation of merit, the next level of recognition, in the distinguished building category.

They include the Hotel Julian at 168 N. Michigan Ave., by Hirsch MPG; the remake of the North Side’s former Julia Lathrop public housing project, by a team led by JGMA; the Vue53 apartment high-rise in Hyde Park by Valerio Dewalt Train Associates; and the McDonald’s Disney flagship in Orlando, Florida, by Ross Barney Architects.

EXP’s transformation of the Garfield elevated station, which turned the historic portion of the station into a community-based arts facility and renovated the transit portion of the station, is winning an honor award for interior architecture and special recognition honors in the distinguished building category.

Chicago artist Nick Cave was part of the design team.

“It’s beautiful and durable, an understanding of how public architecture, high-use infrastructure and art can coexist as one,” an awards juror commented.

The Chicago Architecture Center, located in the base of the riverfront office building at 111 E. Wacker Drive, is receiving a citation of merit in the interior architecture category, as are Gensler’s Columbia College Student Center and the Northtown branch library and apartments, by Perkins and Will.

Wheeler Kearns Architects is being recognized with an honor award and a citation of merit in the divine detail category as well as a citation of merit in the distinguished building category for its Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School expansion on the North Side.

A lifetime achievement award is being presented to Phillip Johnson, co-founder of Johnson & Lee Architects/Planners. The firm’s designs include the boathouse at Ping Tom Park in Chinatown.

The winners are on view at this link.

Blair Kamin is a Tribune critic.

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Twitter @BlairKamin


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