Dirk Denison Architects Reflects on Designing for Art - Monique Meloche Gallery

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Dirk Denison Architects Reflects on Designing for Art - Monique Meloche Gallery

As longtime fans of Monique Meloche and her unique approach to making exhibition spaces her own—from her first solo exhibition as a gallerist, mounted at her own Chicago townhouse nearly two decades ago—we at Dirk Denison Architects were thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with her a second time on her gallery’s new location in West Town. 


The new Monique Meloche Gallery sits comfortably on a quiet stretch of Paulina Street, between a detached two-story house and a long industrial low-rise—a typically Chicago juxtaposition. The gallery has an almost speakeasy-like quality; visitors pass through the existing building’s solid brick facade into an expansive renovated space that is both sanctuary and emporium, naturally lit by brick-glass windows uncovered during the construction.


Beyond collaborating with Monique again, we were also energized by the challenge of working on a building that was so different from her gallery’s previous location, in Wicker Park, which we designed in 2009. There, a window onto the street gave the gallery an engaging public face and maximized its small footprint—but as its operations expanded, more activities had to move off site. With two dedicated exhibition spaces, a preparator’s station, additional storage, and a viewing area that can also host events, lectures, performances, and video works, the new design accommodates all the gallery does while retaining its generous public character. From its first exhibition of paintings by Jeff Sonhouse to recent environmental installations by Genevieve Gaignard, it has been striking and inspiring to see how different artists have animated the space.


One year after opening, we asked Monique to reflect on how the gallery space has evolved. “Dirk’s thoughtful vision dovetailed perfectly with how I envisioned the new space—part cool white cube and part warm and welcoming,” she explained. “We are continually surprised with the versatility of the space with each exhibition we have mounted this past year.”


Maximizing wall space while retaining the unique aspects of the original structure was a priority. Beyond the unassuming facade and the natural lighting, the renovation also retained the original concrete flooring, which we simply cleaned up and coated. Monique calls the flooring a palimpsest, a way of drawing out connections to the building’s past.


An additional one-of-a-kind aspect of the design comes out of another collaboration, this time with an artist in Monique’s roster: a reception desk we worked on with the artist Nate Young. “I had historically commissioned a gallery artist to make custom desks for my previous locations, so it seemed natural to invite Nate Young to work with Dirk to devise the perfect scenario for the reception area,” Monique says. “Nate, of course, surprised us with hidden inlaid drawings and the most exquisite butterfly joints and topped it off with a custom book shelf and desks.” The desk is placed at the intersection of two gallery spaces, not at the entrance, which also enhances the feeling of being immediately, refreshingly immersed in art. 


We couldn’t be happier to have helped shape this adaptable space, which balances Monique’s vital presence and direction with the ability to welcome multiple voices, perspectives, and media, showcasing art in new ways.


Check out project details here.

Monica Jostarticle