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Artist, Architect Team up For Bold Bridgeport Vision

By Casey Cora | August 29, 2013 6:55am
 Architect Tabitha Ponte's renderings show a dynamic vision for the southwest corner of 31st and Morgan streets in Bridgeport.
EB Bridgeport Project
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BRIDGEPORT — Picture this: a giant mixed-use community arts training center housed within an architecturally stunning building that would forever transform the intersection known as the Bridgeport Hipster Triangle.

Pleasant House, Maria’s and Bridgeport Coffee are already doing a great job of anchoring the community, but that other corner is a sort of dead wall, a blank space and we want to make it even more of a destination,” said Dan Pugh, a Bridgeport ceramic artist who one day hopes to turn his vision for the "Eugene Barnett Ceramics Center" into a reality.

Pugh, 39, is the co-founder of Eugene Barnett & Associates, the small arts company he runs with his wife, Lynn Barnett. The pair also founded the grassroots, anti-crime Bridgeport Citizens Group.

He said a barroom discussion among friends who were spitballing ideas for the intersection eventually led to a recent chat with his friend Tabitha Ponte, who offered to create some concepts for the building.

A licensed architect with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s “Less is More” tattooed on her wrist, Ponte, 32, said she went through about eight or nine different iterations before settling on something that’s “very pragmatic and very utilitarian.”

Her design takes Pugh’s vision — a place where ceramics production, a design studio, retail and education converge — and turns it into something “sort of like a Tetris construct where the shapes fit together even though they’re independent.”

Although the intersection of 31st and Morgan certainly has cultural cachet, it’s also where two grid systems meet, providing a unique design opportunity.

Sprawled out across four lots, Ponte’s building would be angled diagonally, a move she said would provide more interior natural light, protect the building from harsh winter winds and provide “simpler but interesting facades, regardless of the approach.”

More detailed renderings are available at the Ponte Group website.

Inside, Pugh envisions a place where upward of 50 at-risk kids from across Chicago could learn all aspects of ceramics, from conceptualizing the artwork to selling it.  

“My dream scenario would be to put a 5,000 year-old pot in their hands and say to them, ‘You have the skills to make this. Let’s go back and make one just like that.’ That way, hopefully we can give them a sense of themselves and their own possibilities," he said.

And speaking of possibilities, Pugh, Barnett and Ponte aren’t even sure this project could ever get off the ground.

“It’s a pretty big idea. I think conceptually it would be fantastic. In practice it would work but we’d need a lot of support in terms of funding and running the place,” Barnett said.

Pugh ballparks the estimated cost of creating the center at $35 million, and he’s not even sure if the buildings, including an apartment building and a laundromat, or the adjacent vacant lot, are up for sale.

Still, he said, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big.

“That might be what our neighborhood needs, for people to throw out some big ideas and see what happens."