This year, two icons of Chicago’s Latino community, which makes up a third of the city’s population, became official city symbols. Erected in 1995, the 60-foot-tall steel Puerto Rican flags that mark the section of Division Street known as Paseo Boricua are a monumental testament to the long Puerto Rican presence at Humboldt Park. The arch greets people at the city’s second largest shopping district on March 26th Street in Little Village also fleshes out the influence of Chicago’s large Mexican community. Built in 1990 and designed by Adrian Lozano, it is the city’s first official landmark designed by a Mexican architect.
Such official acknowledgment of Latino influence on Chicago’s built environment is but a small acknowledgment. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, here are some Hispanic architects whose work can be found in Chicago.
The Little Village Arch isn’t Mexican-born Lozano’s only significant contribution to Chicago. He painted Chicago’s first Mexican mural at Hull House – the start of a colorful tradition here that’s particularly visible in Pilsen today. This neighborhood is also home to the National Museum of Mexican Art, which Lozano adapted from a disused boathouse and added to the facade, among other things, an impressive entrance and a motif from the Zapotec site of Mitla. He also served as the architect overseeing the construction of the Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen.
Pedro Ramirez Vazquez
Lozano carried out the vision of Pedro Ramírez Vázquez at the Benito Juarez Community Academy. Ramírez Vázquez, one of Mexico’s leading architects and developer of a design for a prefabricated rural school used throughout Mexico, was commissioned by Mayor Richard J. Daley to design the Pilsen school after the mayor allegedly called the Mexican president to ask about the best architect in the country. (The school itself was the result of a remarkable community campaign to get a bilingual public school for Pilsen.) Ramírez Vázquez’s plan included space for murals, and it has been argued that the school’s sloping walls refer to Mayan and Aztec architecture .
Argentine-born Pelli, who died in 2019, is the highest-profile — and tallest-building — Latin American architect working in Chicago. He himself designed two buildings here: the 1990 skyscraper at 181 W. Madison Street, whose recessed crown is slightly reminiscent of classic Art Deco towers; and the postmodern Gerald Ratner Athletics Center at the University of Chicago in 2003. Pelli’s firm, now Pelli Clarke & Partners, designed several other buildings in the area: the DePaul University Theater School, the Wintrust Arena, the Lake Forest Northwestern Medicine’s Hospital and Wolf Point East and Salesforce Tower, both of which stand at the junction of the Chicago River downtown.
Pelli is also notable in Chicago for a building that was never built, as well as one that was not built here. His proposed Skyneedle would have stood across from 181 W. Madison and usurped the position of the then Sears Tower as the world’s tallest building. While plans for the Skyneedle fell through, Pellis Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur later surpassed the Willis Tower instead.
Juan Gabriel Moreno
Like Pelli, Colombian-born Juan Gabriel Moreno has an eponymous company whose work can be found across the city. JGMA’s buildings are often characterized by bright colors and dynamic shapes, as in the Brighton Park outpost of Esperanza Health Centers; UN Football Academy at Gage Park; Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy in Little Village; and Northeastern Illinois University’s El Centro campus, which flashes in blue and yellow as you pass it on the Kennedy Expressway. That’s what architecture critic Blair Kamin said Chicago tonight that El Centro is “very clearly an expression of its Latino identity”, in its use of colors resembling architecture found particularly in Mexico.
Francisco Gonzalez Pulido
When Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido joined the office of the late Chicago architect Helmut Jahn in 2000, he was “the only one who spoke Spanish,” he later said ChicagoTribune. In 2012 he was finally appointed President of the company; “I’m probably the only Mexican in a position of this rank” in architecture,” he told the tribune in 2017. He founded his own company, FGP Atelier, in 2018. Although based in Chicago, her portfolio is international. However, according to his Wikipedia page, Gonzalez-Pulido has worked on several Jahn projects in and around Chicago: the Streeterville apartment tower at 600 N. Fairbanks Court; the domed Mansueto Library and the futuristic Chiller Plant at the University of Chicago; and Shure’s acute-angled headquarters.
Patricia Saldana Natke
Chicago native Patricia Saldaña Natke is a founding partner of Chicago-based UrbanWorks, which has worked on numerous planning projects, including a master plan for McCormick Place and Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics. But the company has also built some significant educational spaces: the Dormitory La Casa in Pilsen, where students of all universities can live; and Galewood Elementary School on the West Side, which has a dramatic sloping side reminiscent of a skateboard quarter pipe.
Chavez was born in Mexico but fell in love with Chicago after moving here and planning to stay for just a few years, she told the Chicago Architecture Center. She was an early contributor at JGMA, where she worked on El Centro, the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, and other educational projects. She then joined the big company Gensler, where she was part of the team behind the breezy open Columbia College Student Center in the Loop. Despite her experience and work, however, obstacles such as her gender and country of origin (educational credits do not easily transfer from Mexico to the US) have prevented some progress, she explained to CAC. But she still says she loves her job: “I don’t want to be anything else,” she told CAC.
Emmanuel Garcia and Fabiola Yep from Wheeler Kearns Architects
Garcia and Yep are both young but have already worked on some significant projects for Chicago-based firm Wheeler Kearns Architects. Garcia oversaw the conversion of a bank into the North Lawndale Employment Network headquarters and the design of the jagged Purple Llama Coffee & Record Shop in West Town. He was also on the team for the Chapel of St. Joseph in the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Des Plaines, which was built from a former gymnasium and has won multiple awards.
Yep has also been working on adaptive building reuse. She was involved in the renovation of several Elgin Math + Science Academy buildings, including the conversion of a 1937 log cabin into an “art barn”. She also worked on the renovation of an unused South Chicago Catholic Church into additional classrooms and space for the Great Lakes Academy, connecting the new space to an existing building via a Miesian glass box. Both Garcia and Yep are members of Chicago-based Arquitectos, which supports Latino and Latina architects.
Mexican architect Frida Escobedo designed just one small space in Chicago, but it’s a striking combination of historic and futuristic, industrial and commercial: a West Loop storefront for skincare brand Aesop. (She’s also designed stores for Aesop in other American cities.) The bare space, with its exposed brick and reflective green surfaces, feels both a laboratory and a loft, and is located in a historic building in Fulton Market.