Chicago's Hilliard Homes Succeed Despite Trend Away From High-Rise Projects

The Hilliard Homes avoided the wrecking ball for 50 years, even while other high-rise projects were knocked down. A Chicago Reader pierce suggests the design and management of these buildings could make them a model for future High-rise projects.

2 minute read

October 12, 2016, 6:00 AM PDT

By Casey Brazeal @northandclark


Hilliard Towers

Chris Hamby / Flickr

High-rise projects have a bad reputation and, in Chicago, two thirds of them have been torn down. The Hilliard Homes near Chinatown have not, and as Maya Dukmasova of the Chicago Reader reports there's good reason for that. For a start, the buildings were designed by renowned architect, Bertrand Goldberg, who gave the buildings his "Signature bulbous, organic shapes, reminiscent of corncobs or honeycombs." He was, after all, the man who had designed Marina City, iconic buildings which are home to some of Chicago's wealthiest residents.

Projects like the Hilliard Homes, despite their pedigree, have come down around the country, and this project may have suffered the same fate if it hadn’t had a famous name attached to it. "Less than a decade after Hilliard opened, America began to embrace the idea that high-rise public housing doesn't work." And, while many who lived in the apartments in the 70s compared it favorably to other projects around the city, in the 80s the building was in need of serious maintenance, which the Chicago Housing Authority determined it could not provide. Eventually the buildings were sold to Peter Holsten.

Many are proud of the transition the building made. "The development contains a concentration of low-income residents living in high-rise buildings (in subsidized units). Though this has come to be seen as a recipe for disaster in housing policy circles, a stroll through Hilliard today makes it seem like a utopia." Dukmasova reports that this is not achieved by architecture alone, but through careful management including over 100 million dollars in improvements that were put into the building when it was purchased, and sometimes controversial rules around behavior in the building and background checks for perspective tenants. Holsten the current owner of the Hilliard Homes, says he will tell troublesome young people who fight or cause trouble on the property. "If this keeps going on, your mother is at risk of losing her apartment. Is that what you want?" Holsten believes that the consistent and fair deployment of these rules are a big part of what makes the development successful.

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