The University of Chicago was for many years tarred with an unofficial motto: “where fun goes to die.” While the university is a serious academic machine, the cause of the lack of vitality is misplaced. No less an authority on urban vitality than Jane Jacobs pointed out in The Death and Life of Great American Citiesthat urban renewal eliminated more than fifty bars and clubs from commercial streets in the Hyde Park neighborhood. A street called South Lake Park was one of the most egregious examples, where a public street was moved about 150 feet east to eradicate most of a mile of commercial and mixed-use buildings. This was by no means an even trade as the developable blocks created by the new street were so deep they required a resubdivision. 

In 2009, the City of Chicago issued an RFP to select a development team. After the developer team that Farr was on did not make the short list, Vermillion Development  recruited Farr Associates to join the team to add needed expertise in master planning and sustainability. Farr’s master plan called for an L-shaped internal street that aligned with the central arch of the Hyde Park Bank Building and an existing apartment building to the west. The master plan located a taller building comparable in height to the bank, and with an occupiable rooftop, to create a gateway along 53rd street. Retail shops lined both South Lake Park and the newly aligned Harper Court. The City of Chicago stated that this was the best master plan submitted, which along with strong financials and relationships, was key to our team’s selection.

After our team’s selection, Farr’s role focused on sustainability and street design. Farr led an Integrated Design Workshop that used both LEED-ND and LEED-ND for reference. LEED-ND prompted a look at opportunities for adding walk-to amenities and green infrastructure while LEED-NC prompted design studies for the office building to evaluate envelope and MEP innovations. 

While Farr Associates prepared conceptual studies for the office building, the final architectural design for the built Phase One was prepared by Architect of Record Hartshorne Plunkard

Upon its completion the project is arguably one of the most sustainable urban projects as one of the first in the country to have earned four separate LEED certifications


Client: Harper Court Partners

Year: 2014


  • LEED-ND Gold

  • LEED-CS Gold Certified

Awards: 2012 CNU Illinois Charter Award


The Harper Court redevelopment recharged the 53rd Street Corridor, giving Hyde Park residents access to high-quality retail and dining that they once sought outside the community. A new streetscape easily transitions into a neighborhood gathering place,  hosting street festivals and a farmer’s market.