Marwen’s Expansion

Chicago, Illinois / United States of America

Marwen provides free visual arts classes to under-served students in Chicago in grades 6-12. The organization is fueled by the idea that making art can transform lives, and that every young person should have opportunities to do so.

For 15 years, Marwen had no physical, public presence. This year, Marwen announced itself to the city, having purchased the industrial loft building in which it had been renting and expanding its site to create a fully realized arts campus. With its new presence, Marwen conveys to the public its thoughtfully composed mission and vision.

Situated on four floors of a heavy timber manufacturing building, the program includes a main public gallery for student work, an alumni gallery, library, administrative offices, and nine state-of-the-art instructional studios for photography, graphic design, film, animation, fabric, and ceramics. The expansion included a new entry and parking court, a multiuse loggia space, and an additional 15,000 sf of new/renovated studio spaces, new windows, HVAC, roof, solar panel array, and building signage.

The existing building was mined for its beauty. Floors were gutted to expose a raw structure organized by heavy timber columns. Tooled concrete floors were poured to provide appropriate sound deadening and to complement the existing brick masonry and Douglas fir beams. The architectural palette is spare and quiet, allowing artwork to be the focus.

The new campus aims to be a cohesive learning community that serves as a cornerstone of arts education and is accessible to diverse communities throughout Chicago. The design allows students to feel both safe and empowered. Gallery and critique spaces showcase student work on every floor and allow for impromptu discussions and social interactions to take place. By valuing the work in this way, instructors hope students’ experiences will extend beyond Marwen’s walls and impact their daily lives and communities.

Architect of Record

Wheeler Kearns Architects

Associate Architect

Wheeler Kearns Architects



General Contractor

Power Construction Company, LLC


  • Wolff Landscape Architects
  • Thornton Tomasetti
  • Terra Engineering