How Future Firm Finds Inspiration in the "Messy Ecology" of Cities

Chicago-based Future Firm is a practice that embraces the complexities of building — site conditions, system challenges and infrastructure. But instead of abandoning them as “problems solved” or “issues mitigated,” founding principals Ann Lui and Craig Reschke see those complications as opportunities for imagination. From a sensitive renovation of a former medical office into an artist studio and gallery to the conceptual installation Storm-Speed City — which revisits the role of weather in cit

Revaluing emptiness in Chicago

Unused land, in the eye of capital, is wasted space, dormant and waiting to build wealth via development. In Chicago, among other Rust Belt cities, huge swathes of land are empty of buildings. More than 13,800 city-owned vacant parcels sit on the South and West Sides in predominantly Black and Brown neighbourhoods, a product of historical redlining that created Chicago’s segregated cityscape, exacerbating foreclosures and depopulation.

At the Love Building, community know-how and design expertise reinforce one another

When Dessa Cosma met with fellow Detroit social justice leader Jeanette Lee in 2016, she was struggling to locate accessible office space for her organization, Detroit Disability Power. Lee’s Allied Media Projects was battling rising office rents as it bounced between neighborhoods. Seeking a more permanent home for both organizations, Lee found and purchased an old furniture storage facility in the Core City neighborhood, a couple of miles northwest of downtown. The space is large—25,000 squar

MASS Design Group’s first U.S. healthcare project is an inclusive Texan clinic

Who writes a building’s story? The architect, the client, the nearby community, and the building’s users could all pen different narratives. Some might wax poetic about shining details and brilliant floorplans; others might record displacement and division. The Family Health Center on Virginia (The Center)—a new community medical clinic in North Texas designed by MASS Design Group with assistance from Corgan and SmithGroup—aims to ensure that all voices are included and uplifted in its story. T

STAND UP AND STAND OUT

FROM THE MAY 2020 ISSUE OF One day, Pascale Sablan sat down at her computer and googled the phrase “great architects.” Dozens of architects’ names appeared on the screen, and to her surprise, very few of them looked like her. “There was one woman—Zaha Hadid—and nine people of color,” says Sablan, an architect at S9 Architecture in New York. Hadid, holding two boats, also accounted for one of those nine. In that moment Sablan was concerned for kids, because when kids hear about something they m

Dark Side: A Conversation with Aaron Seward and Anjulie Rao

The third edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial opened on September 19, 2019. Titled “…And Other Such Stories,” it was curated by Yesomi Umolu, Sepake Angiama, and Paulo Tavares. Hosted at the Chicago Cultural Center and four off-site venues, the exhibition elided the formal and technical aspects of architecture to focus on problems of equity and historical violence in the world in which architecture operates. Here, Chicago Architect Editor Anjulie Rao and Texas Architect Editor Aaron Seward discuss some of what they absorbed at the event.

How buying a house activated all of my anxieties

Last year I decided to engage in the truest, purest act of banal suffering: I bought a house. Buying a house isn’t one action; it’s a series of actions: frantically scraping together every penny you have, talking to strangers (real estate agents and lenders), fighting with plumbers, and filling out paperwork. It’s a process that poked at each of my anxieties, from the sharp, short-term suffering of making phone calls to the bigger question of whether I had become my own worst enemy: a gentrifie

A decade of regret in Chicago

The losses in Chicago’s built environment go far beyond the buildings and their architectural features. These places are symbols of greater failures: vacant lots represent a dearth of affordable housing, church-condo conversions signal the absence of community spaces, and closed schools call attention to the city’s disinvestment in its neighborhoods. This only covers a sliver of the demolitions and conversions that have occured in the past decade. These spaces are still mourned today, and as we

Finding Peace on Chicago’s Bridges

The Loop is a great place to develop an anxiety disorder, which I did two years ago, having worked there, daily, for five years. There’s a sense of loneliness that accompanies subsisting among skyscrapers: the omnipresent emptiness of monuments to capitalism combined with the lingering panic that everyone has some place to be and, yes, we’re in each other’s way. It’s why I came up with a routine that allows me a pace more in line with my raised-in-the-forest heartbeat: I walk, slowly, across Chi

Power, violence, and the Chicago Architecture Biennial

Architecture biennials are created to take the pulse of the profession, to display what architects are making, thinking about, and valuing. If a pulse is what we were looking for, I would have put the Chicago Architecture Biennial in an ambulance years ago. Past editions were missing the critical, complicated histories of segregation and redlining; the grand, hopeful construction and spectacular destruction of large-scale public housing were glossed over; the seemingly unfixable disrepair that b

Chicago Architecture Biennial 2019: Questioning Real Estate Values

In the run-up to the Chicago Architecture Biennial 2019, which opens on 19 September, Metropolis presents a series of previews of the themes running through the event. For exhibitors at this year’s biennial, the “art” of building is hardly innocent. From resource management to property relations, these works reveal a more complex reality. When urbanists and architects preach “the right to the city,” they mean urban spaces open to enjoyment and use by all. But framed within a market context, in

In Chicago, the Luxe Boutique Notre Shakes Up the Retail Typology

The most obvious venue for retail is a box, one big and open enough to highlight changing inventory and conveniently rotate customers in and out. But Notre, a luxury clothing purveyor, had something more in mind when it sought to grow its Chicago shop: the ability to also act as a cultural hub. The solution combines sweeping renovations and more nuanced moves, and draws on the combined talents of local designers Abigail Chang, Ben Gott, and Isabelle Reford and architecture firm Norman Kelley, a

Eviction is more than just a bureaucratic process

Eviction has become a prominent topic of academic research, public debate, journalistic investigation, and artistic expression in recent years, spurred largely by the 2016 publication of sociologist Matthew Desmond's book Evicted. Set in Milwaukee, it painstakingly describes the lives of poor tenants and their landlords and contemplates solutions to the nation's eviction epidemic. Since the book's release, Desmond has opened the Eviction Lab, a research center at Princeton University, where he t

Chicago Botanic Garden's New Way for Kids to Engage With Nature

At the new Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) Regenstein Learning Campus, the landscape encourages children’s sensory discovery of the natural world—minus the gaudiness of plastic playgrounds or an overprescription of experiences. In lieu of sandboxes and jungle gyms, Mikyoung Kim Design elegantly weaves a narrative of outdoor exploration that entices kids to encounter nature through imaginative free play, instilling body confidence. The space, executed by local landscape architects Jacobs/Ryan Associ

The Beach is the interactive exhibit Navy Pier deserves

What even is Navy Pier? For many Chicagoans it's the epitome of tourist hell; like San Francisco's Pier 39 but with fewer bread bowls and more mold issues, the carnivalesque combo children's museum-Shakespeare Theater-fun house-yacht dock-pirate ship confusion has always been more a "something else that's not for us." Navy Pier saw this as a problem and, starting in 2016, undertook a $278 million dollar renovation of the lakeshore attraction, looking to improve its repellant reputation among Chi

7 small projects that had a big impact in 2018

Chicago was full of megadevelopments this year. It’s true that Lincoln Yards, The 78, and even Amazon got a huge chunk of the spotlight in 2018. However, there are plenty of small projects leaving a meaningful impact for neighborhoods and their residents. We thought it would be nice to honor the smaller-scale projects. So after reaching out to Chicago notables and experts, here are seven favorites in that category. “What the city needs are more public spaces. And I’m not talking about the priva

Solving civic issues locally for national change

How architects worked with children and adults to imagine better, safer communities and schools at Chicago Ideas festival. The issues of ownership and power are crucial when addressing civic problems. Residents are increasingly asking how they can be more involved in, or better stewards of, their cities and towns. While the vast majority of the American public does not identify as architects or designers, do they have tools to make our communities safer and better-prepared to address critical c
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