Chicago-based Future Firm puts people first

Future Firm was founded in 2015 by Ann Lui and Craig Reschke. From their office in the Chicago Loop, their team of nine has embarked on myriad civic, residential, community, and adaptive reuse projects. They also keep one foot in academia: Lui is an assistant professor of practice at the University of Michigan, and Lui and Reschke have jointly contributed to the Chicago Architecture Biennial, Exhibit Columbus, and publications like MAS Context. The studio’s thought leadership persists past built work: For example, Future Firm has proposed the Office of the Public Architect—a vision where the city would offer gratis architectural services to people issued building violations who may not otherwise be able to afford it.

Previously, Lui and Reschke worked for SOM’s Chicago office. After setting off on their own, the pair sought to build a practice together that serves public and private clients, but with an emphasis on the city of Chicago at large. “A lot of our projects are hard to represent in a portfolio, especially the extensive research we do,” Lui told AN. “Sometimes we work with small business owners in Uptown, which is home to a large Asian American community. Other times we’re in the South Side, figuring out ways to infill vacant lots.”

Hem House by Future Firm (Daniel Kelleghan)

Part of Future Firm’s differentiating factor is economic: While other offices typically kick things off once a budget has been set aside, Lui and Reschke often help their clients raise money through grant writing. In the past few months, Future Firm has won almost $18 million in seed support from public and private agencies for small-business owners. “We try to go into everything with an entrepreneurial mindset,” Reschke said.

Interior view of Hem House (Daniel Kelleghan)

Hem House, 2021

Today, there are more than 10,000 vacant lots spread throughout Chicago’s South and West Sides, a conundrum that planners call “the missing teeth problem”—an incongruous issue for a
city with a serious housing crisis. Decades of soil pollution from lead exposure makes construction on many empty lots prohibitively expensive, and many have basements filled with debris—a tactic for quick and dirty demolitions in the 1980s.

Future Firm’s Hem House (previously featured in AN Interior) presents an innovative case study for these lots. The two-bedroom home was completed in East Garfield Park, where the soil was contaminated. In order to circumnavigate this, Future Firm designed a home without a basement: Hem House sits on a concrete slab set back from the street that still allows for a small garden. The model is easily replicable and can be seen as a precedent for flipping other vacant lots.

Exterior view of Justice of the Pies (Ross Floyd)

Justice of the Pies, 2023

In Chicago’s Avalon Park neighborhood, Future Firm recently transformed a former dentist’s office into Justice of the Pies, a chic bakery for star chef Maya-Camille Broussard. (Readers may recognize Broussard from her appearance on Bake Squad, a Netflix production.) Justice of the Pies is sited in a 3,500-square-foot midcentury building. Together, they filled the building with a commercial bakery, exhibition kitchen, outdoor seating, offices, storage, and conference rooms. year-round and remain fully accessible for myriad uses. South Side Sanctuary was founded by Cecilia Cuff, CEO of the Nascent Group, and Jasmine Anwuli Michaels, executive director of OASES. The design and construction team includes Future Firm; Jim Mjenzi, owner of Nation Movement Builders; and Tynneal Grant of OTBS Design, among other important contributors.

Beyond its attractive aesthetics, Justice of the Pies has a strong social mission. The bakery is dedicated to Broussard’s father, Stephen, a community leader and criminal-defense lawyer. As part of its social mission, Justice of the Pies hosts an annual “Pie Drive,” which raises money for Cabrini Green Legal Aid. Thanks to Future Firm’s renovation in Avalon Park, Justice of the Pies has a stunning permanent home where it can continue to serve Chicagoans.

Rendering of Revolution Workshop (Courtesy Future Firm and Revolution Workshop)

Revolution Workshop, 2022—

When Revolution Workshop was founded in 2017, it had a simple mission: to help close the staggering unemployment gap in Chicago’s communities of color. Today, 37 percent of Black Chicagoans from age 20 to 24 are unemployed. To help solve this problem, a small group of leaders in the AEC industry came together over the shared mission to connect unemployed Chicagoans with construction jobs. Shortly after, Revolution Workshop bought a 7,000-square-foot building in Garfield Park to house its operations.

Today, Revolution Workshop is a thriving organization and needs more space. In 2023, the nonprofit tapped Future Firm to adaptively reuse a 5,000-square-foot building next to its current location into classroom and office space. The building Future Firm was asked to work with is a distinctive industrial structure defined by its long-span bow trusses. Upon completion, the combined structures will create a distinctive flagship location for Revolution Workshop.

Axon view of POP! South Side Sanctuary at twilight. (Courtesy Future Firm and South Side Sanctuary)

POP! South Side Sanctuary, 2023—

POP! South Side Sanctuary is an ongoing effort by Future Firm to create a park on a vacant lot in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, an underserved area on the South Side.

South Side Sanctuary hasn’t been built yet. Its sponsors, which include a wide array of nonprofits, are still working with Future Firm to raise capital for the park. But upon completion, the project will transform the lot into a vibrant community space that can accommodate visitors year-round and remain fully accessible for myriad uses. Cecilia Cuff, CEO of the Nascent Group, and Jasmine Anwuli Michaels, executive director of OASES. The design and construction team includes Future Firm; Jim Mjenzi, owner of Nation Movement Builders; and Tynneal Grant of OTBS Design, among other important contributors.

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