These six heavy concrete buildings were operating, albeit inefficiently, as cold storage for a wholesale fruit and vegetable market when architect Pappageorge/Haymes purchased them for condo loft conversions. Located in the South Water Market historic district, the 926 units are within financial reach of first-time buyers, thanks to their compact floor plans averaging 1,055 square feet and a property tax freeze that came with compliance with its landmark status. Another cost-saver was the speed at which the buildings were brought to market. The first one was occupied within 18 months of the start of construction, with units selling for an affordable $150,000 on average.

“It's terrific when you can walk into a project with great bones,” says Jeff Renterghem, Pappageorge/Haymes' senior associate in charge. “We had a wonderful canvas to start the residential conversion, and because we had an entire block to work with, we were able to control quality and costs.” Faithfully restored features include carved terra cotta façades, floor-to-ceiling windows, 12-foot ceilings, and gigantic column bays. First-floor loading docks were repurposed as private terraces, and a fourth-floor–addition setback provided space for outdoor decks.

This rare opportunity presented more than a few challenges, however. Chief among them was lining up mechanicals and plumbing in a building with 170 units and 35 floor plans. Given their size and heft—800 feet long, four-stories high—the architects thought of the warehouses as skyscrapers lying on their sides. “We wanted a variety of unit types because people like choices,” Renterghem says. “But it was very complicated to get the infrastructure to thread through the buildings. We had a great contractor who had a lot of patience and subcontractors who understood how to thread the spaghetti of all the parts and pieces.”

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Category: Lofts;

Entrant/Architect/Land planner: Pappageorge/Haymes, Chicago;

Builder: The RJ Group, Chicago;

Developer: The Enterprise Cos., Chicago;

Interior designer: Borg Design Studio, Chicago;

Landscape architect: Daniel Weinbach & Partners, Chicago

GOLDEN TRIANGLES As is so often the case, the façades' most animating feature grew out of programmatic and landmark-status constraints. The distinctive triangular balconies —which add roughly 100 square feet of precious outdoor space to each unit—are integrated into an open grid mimicking the covered canopy that once protected the dockworkers and produce. While replicating the original canopy in size, shape, and spirit to maintain the building's historic integrity, the new canopy and its three-cornered balconies allow more light to filter to the level below. In contrast to a static rectangle, a triangle offers a more dynamic sense of space and flexibility for arranging furniture.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Chicago, IL.