A photo of the exterior of El Centro.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

El Centro, Northeastern Illinois University’s Avondale location, will be featured in the WTTW television show, “The Most Beautiful Places in Chicago.” Hosted by eight-time Emmy Award-winning public television writer, producer, and program host Geoffrey Baer, the show will premiere at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 7 on WTTW and will be streaming on wttw.com and the PBS app. 

“This show is unlike any I’ve done before," said Baer, who’s known for programs such as “Chicago by ‘L’,” “The Great Chicago Quiz Show,” and “Beyond Chicago From the Air.” “I thought I was after visual beauty alone. But meeting the people connected with these places and hearing their stories took the beauty to a deeper, emotional level—capturing this for our viewers was unforgettable.”

A companion website, which will be fully active after the show’s premiere, will include a colorful photo collage of more than 25 places—architectural marvels, parks, sacred spaces, public art, and more—with capsule descriptions and fun facts about each. It will also include an exclusive audio tour of some of Baer’s favorite beautiful places, customizable for anyone who wants to join him, a web-extra video where viewers can meet Chicago’s mermaid sculpture and the artist behind its once-mysterious origins, and a place for viewers to submit their own picks for most beautiful places. Now through 2 p.m. March 8, people can vote for El Centro in round one of the viewer poll of "The Most Beautiful Places in Chicago."

Interim Director of El Centro Rebeca Lamadrid-Quevedo is thrilled to have the building’s architecture featured in such a prestigious program, but also encourages viewers to experience the culture of the location to really appreciate it.

“There is no question that El Centro’s architecture is beautiful,”  Lamadrid-Quevedo said. “It feels so rewarding to know more people will learn about Northeastern’s El Centro and the work we do here by having our building celebrated in this way. One of the things I love about the architecture of El Centro is the amount of natural light it lets in. I think, because of that light, students and community members organically engage with each other. It creates a calm environment where people want to work, learn and grow together.” 

El Centro architect Juan Gabriel Moreno was born in Bogota, Colombia, and studied architecture at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He launched Juan Gabriel Moreno Architects (JGMA) in 2010 with the sole purpose of transforming Chicago’s diverse communities with his architecture. Since then, JGMA has become one of the most highly acclaimed design firms in Chicago. Moreno’s personal dedication to community and social justice has been recognized both locally and internationally. He was named a 2017 Business Leader of Color and a 2016 Curbed Groundbreaker for his efforts to improve the functionality of the built world. In 2015, he was selected as a fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed him to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. Northeastern awarded Moreno an honorary doctorate of humane letters in May 2022

“Juan Gabriel Moreno’s dedication to highlighting diversity by creating architecture that reflects the unique cultures of Chicago’s neighborhoods is a shining example of how art and social justice can effectively collaborate to meet the needs of community members,” President Gloria J. Gibson said upon announcing Moreno as the May 2022 Commencement speaker. “Northeastern Illinois University has experienced the impact of his work as the architect of our El Centro location, which is beautiful and functional. It is a structure that is as unique as our students and fosters creativity and innovation.” 

Moreno will be featured on the WTTW program talking with Baer about El Centro. Other featured locations in the program highlights include the “Art on the Mart” digital installation on the exterior of the Merchandise Mart, Tribune Tower’s “Hall of Inscriptions,” the world’s largest Tiffany mosaic at the downtown Macy’s department store (formally Marshall Field’s), Bridgeport’s Palmisano Park (formerly the site of a quarry), Chinatown’s Ping Tom Park, the South Shore Cultural Center, and sacred spaces just outside of Chicago: the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Bartlett and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park.

This week, Moreno and his family also announced the creation of a new scholarship for Northeastern undergraduate students enrolled in the University through El Centro or taking classes at El Centro. The Nohra DeFrancisco Memorial Scholarship, named in honor of Moreno’s mother, will give students the opportunity to travel nationally or internationally to broaden their educational experience, be exposed to new communities, areas and cultures, and experience different architectural landscapes. One scholarship will be awarded in an amount of up to $2,500. The award amount may increase based on destination. This scholarship is open to all Northeastern students who meet the criteria, regardless of citizenship status. All application materials must be received by 5 p.m. Monday, March 13, 2023. Questions about the scholarship can be directed to Denise Torres Velasquez at d-roman1@neiu.edu