Chicago Architecture Foundation exhibits offer plans to revitalize wards in this area
September 3, 2016
A large crowd attended a recent Chicago Architecture Foundation discussion of 50 Designers, 50 Ideas, 50 Wards. (Photo Courtesy Chicago Architecture Foundation)

A large crowd attended a recent Chicago Architecture Foundation discussion of 50 Designers, 50 Ideas, 50 Wards. (Photo Courtesy Chicago Architecture Foundation)

By Johnny Figel

The Chicago architecture community is ready to help revitalize all 50 wards in the city. So said Michael Wood, the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) senior director of program strategy, who added it took just ten days for the organization to recruit 50 Chicago-based design firms to participate in CAF’s exhibition 50 Designers, 50 Ideas, 50 Wards. “There’s an enthusiastic base [of designers],” Wood said. “It’s both a show of strength and community that we were able to recruit firms for the exhibition in the timespan that we did.”

The showcase, launched as a part of CAF’s 50th anniversary and currently on display in its Atrium Gallery through December, has been billed as a visual conversation on the role design can play in solving Chicago’s community challenges at both the local and citywide levels.

To facilitate this dialogue, CAF enlisted help from Chicago-based design firm UrbanLab. Together, the two organizations found architecture firms to pair with each of the city’s 50 wards and tasked them with formulating solutions for each community’s specific needs.

From the exhibition’s inception, the two organizations calibrated their charge to designers with an emphasis on the future.

“UrbanLab engaged many young to midcareer professionals,” Wood said, adding that the organization’s “fresh perspective was an asset” in thinking through how designs could serve as “anchors of community and economic life for the next ten years.”

Wood said he hopes the exhibit’s pivot toward posterity has achieved both workable and imaginative ideas.

“We wanted to privilege what we thought were practical or pragmatic” solutions, he said, noting the CAF also wanted the exhibition to be “imaginative” and “provoking.”

CAF left the design parameters “open-ended,” he explained, allowing designers space to use their work as a means of cultural critique if they felt compelled to do so.

The prospect of transitioning these proposals from being great educational tools to real-world development projects is exciting, said Kheir Al-Kodmany, PhD, a professor who specializes in sustainable urban design in the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs.

For many of them to move from conceptualization to fruition, some “simple but important” adjustments would be required, he added. “Many of these proposals are laid out in purely physical terms but to some extent neglect other important issues, such as socioeconomic ones.”

With 15 years of experience as an architect and more than 25 years as an urban planner, Al-Kodmany cautioned that achieving development feasibility means a delicate balance between a proposal’s design and its environmental reality.

As a solution, Al-Kodmany said CAF should “encourage a panel discussion, invite some of the experts, and pick out of these 50, say, five to ten proposals to be refined and pushed to the next step.”

The CAF Atrium Gallery is at 224 S. Michigan Ave. Call (312) 922-3432.

A summary of the projects found within wards covered by the Gazette can be found below.

1st Ward. Name: HUB. Designer: Sio2Arch. Description: A building located near the California Chicago Transit Authority station in Logan Square would feature a large indoor urban core that could serve as a lobby for a live performance area and movie theater.

3rd Ward. Name: Smooth Growth. Designer: Marshall Brown Projects. Description: Smooth Growth proposes that urbanism is sustainable at lower densities and can be achieved by reconfiguring both landscape and urban infrastructure to accommodate social and demographic changes.

4thWard. Name: Tiny Town. Designer: Wheeler Kearns Architects. Description: Located in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood, Tiny Town would be composed of 12 houses, each constructed for $60,000 to provide a low-cost, low-maintenance housing solution that can be replicated in other neighborhoods facing similar housing needs.

11th Ward. Name: Water As Our Past And Future. Designer: Studio Gang. Description: Geared toward Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, Water As Our Past And Future looks to provide a solution to nurse the community’s waterways back to health.

12th Ward. Name: Asset Creek. Designer: Ross Barney Architects. Description: A proposed wetland park on 31st Street would purify water from the Chicago River through a series of native plantings serving as water filters. Asset Creek would convert the channel from a barren, smelly wasteland to a valued community swimming hole.

25th Ward. Name: Transforming Invisible Joints. Designer: UrbanWorks. Description: Urban-Works’ master plan envisions Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood as a safe, vibrant place to live, work, and play by linking its various features through a series of innovative intersections.

27th Ward. Name: West Side Corridor. Designer: Brininstool + Lynch. Description: The West Side Corridor is a theoretical “vision plan” for the planned manufacturing district located in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor (Ogden Avenue to Halsted Street and Kinzie Avenue to Carrol Avenue) that runs through the West Loop. The project shows what is possible when officials relax the Kinzie PMD regulations and embrace the West Loop’s larger business dynamics.

28th Ward. Name: Old Cook County Hospital. Designer: Port Urbanism, Perkins + Will, Forum Studio. Description: This proposal envisions a mixed-use campus that knits together all anchor institutions in the current Medical District, connects to its adjacent neighborhoods, and acts as a magnet for more economic development on the West Side based on the twin pillars of healthcare delivery and wellness along with postsecondary education and research.

42nd Ward. Name: SPAN City. Designer: Chicago Underground Practice. Description: This speculative prototype project takes advantage of all 18 operable double-leaf trunnion bascule bridges in the 42nd Ward to convert the bridgehouses into lobbies for a series of new super-housing towers constructed over the bridges themselves.