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With New Homeless Facility, Stanley Tigerman Strengthens his Stand Against Architectural Elitism

Judging from the burgeoning of Architecture for Humanity chapters, more and more the architecture profession is reaching out to those who can least afford but benefit most from design services. Chicago’s Stanley Tigerman, FAIA, qualifies as one of the forefathers of the movement.

“Designing houses for the rich—that’s not interesting. It’s greater payback to work for those who need me than for those who want me,” Tigerman says. “When you design something beautiful, people appreciate it. Beauty isn’t just the reserve for the rich.”

Soon enough, some of the poorest Chicagoans will get a chance to enjoy Tigerman’s work. Pacific Garden Mission, the country’s largest and oldest rescue mission, has retained Tigerman McCurry Architects to design its new headquarters in the South Loop. The 156,000-square-foot building will house more than 1,000 homeless people in separate dormitories for men, women, and children. It will feature a landscaped courtyard atrium, as well as energy-efficient greenhouses that will grow organic produce to help feed the residents and function as a job-training site. The new facility, aiming for silver LEED certification, will also include a barbershop, a beauty salon, a chapel, gymnasiums, and a 600-seat auditorium. After its November 2005 groundbreaking, the $25 million project is scheduled to complete by this fall. In taking the project, Tigerman discounted his fee 20 percent.

Although designing a homeless shelter is the first such venture for Tigerman in his 56-year career, he has always put social causes above lucrative commission. In 1993, Tigerman and interior designer Eva Maddox co-founded Archeworks, an alternative design school in Chicago that trains students in the practice by partnering them with nonprofit clients. In his 2005 book Design Denied: The Dynamics of Withholding Good Design and its Ethical Implications, Tigerman explored the ethical ramifications of architecture’s exclusionary price structure.

Meanwhile, designing for the homeless has not only brought Tigerman closer to the social causes he thinks architecture should serve, but also to those he believes his architecture is meant for. “You think deeply about what it means to be homeless,” he says. “Architects needn’t be distant from those whom we purport to design for.” 

Violet Law

Read RECORD's interview with Stanley Tigerman.