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Park District Recognized by AIA


Selected by Statewide Architect Association for the 2018 Illinois Bicentennial

Oak Park, IL – The Illinois Council of The American Institute of Architects (AIA Illinois) has named the Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center as one of Illinois’ 200 Great Places, in honor of the state’s Bicentennial in 2018. The announcement was made as part of National Architecture Week, which showcases the innovative and talented architects who’ve made positive contributions to society and coincides with the birthday week of the nation’s first president-architect, Thomas Jefferson, on April 12.

Nominations came from architects from all parts of the state and were selected by AIA regional chapters. Nominations were weighed against criteria including the AIA’s “10 Principles of Livable Communities.” They must be publicly accessible, pedestrian-friendly, designed on a human scale, and provide vibrant, public spaces, among other requirements.

“Separately and in total, our 200 Great Places are more than just examples of good or even great design – they are a testament to humanity’s need to shape their environment in a way that is often both pleasing and thought-provoking,” said Kim Kurtenbach, AIA, architect with BLDD Architects and 2018 AIA Illinois Board President. All of the 200 Great Places are featured in a new website at and on a new Instagram account @ilgreatplaces. Plans are underway to organize a local ceremony for the installation of a plaque provided by AIA Illinois which commemorates this recognition at Austin Gardens.

The Platinum-LEED certified Environmental Education Center was selected to the 200 Great Places list due to its design as a place to inspire and teach lessons about energy conservation, water conservation, and connection to nature. The Center’s frame is inspired by the park’s tree canopy evoking the oak forest savanna once native to the area. Numerous energy-efficient and high performance design elements are featured throughout the Center. “The Park District of Oak Park is grateful for this recognition from AIA Illinois. The Park Board and Staff are proud of the Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center which stands as a community showcase for sustainable design,” stated Jan Arnold, Park District Executive Director.

AIA Illinois’ Illinois Great Places recognition program was created in 2007 to commemorate AIA’s 150th anniversary and was designed to broadly include the “built environment,” which includes civil, landscape and engineering places, as well as architecture.


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