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North Lawndale Employment Network

The North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) is a nonprofit on the West Side of Chicago whose clients include citizens returning from incarceration and others who face the day-to-day financial hardships of poverty. When an abandoned former bank building came on the market, NLEN seized the opportunity to relocate all its programs under one roof.

The project enhanced the existing opaque street façade with a new glassy addition that celebrates NLEN’s diverse programming and offerings to the entire community. The expansion is home to NLEN’s Beelove Cafe, which welcomes patrons with honey-inspired drinks and pastries.

While the former bank hid its treasures, NLEN celebrates its most important asset, its clients, by showcasing them working for its social enterprise, Sweet Beginnings, at the center of its campus. With honey harvested from multiple city apiaries, clients process and package homegrown honey products in full view of inspired visitors, peering through windows opposite each entry in a wall of gold.

In addition to the entry plaza, the cafe, and Sweet Beginnings, NLEN’s ground floor features a communal meeting space paired with an exterior peace garden. A Wintrust Bank branch, with a dedicated exterior entry and drive-through, offers clients financial services and counseling onsite. Upstairs, administrative offices, conference rooms, and training rooms surround a photo mural commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s time in North Lawndale.

Gary Lee Partners designed the interiors with an elegant black and gold color palette on the walls and millwork with pops of deep greens and oranges, providing an intimate, hospitality-like experience throughout all the public spaces.

At only 19,000 sq. ft., the NLEN campus provides an entire community experience within a tiny package worthy of its mission.

To learn more about NLEN’s mission click here!

General Contractor: UJAMMA Construction Inc.
Structural Engineer: Enspect Engineering
MEP/FP Engineer: dbHMS.
Civil Engineer: Terra Engineering
Landscape Architect: site design group
Interior Designer: Gary Lee Partners
Graphic Designer: A Perfect Sign, Inc.
Kitchen Consultant: Edge Associates
Owner’s Rep: IFF
Photography: Tom Harris Architectural Photography