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Gone Feral

A review of Natura Urbana: Ecological Constellations in Urban Space by Matthew Gandy. There are more than 30,000 vacant lots in the city of Chicago—remnants of urban renewal’s disastrous execution and disinvestment. Where buildings once stood, acres of new life have emerged. Many of those empty lots have become overgrown—small prairies where remnants of building foundations peek out from plots of seeding grasses; thick, tender lamb’s-quarter; and purple flowering chicory. The lots are home to r

Reconsidering Public Housing in America

The National Public Housing Museum is pluralizing the program’s mythic narrative When Lisa Yun Lee brought some early visitors to the former Jane Addams Homes in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood—the future site of the National Public Housing Museum (NPHM)—the site was derelict, vacant since the low-rise public housing development was shuttered in 2002. The painted walls had peeled, leaving cracks and paint chips in the rooms. “People would look at it and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so beautif

American Framing exposes nation’s long-concealed construction method

I went to Wrightwood 659 to find America. Not like Paul Simon—it wasn’t a regional trek from Saginaw with Kathy. We can’t smoke on buses anymore, anyway. Instead, I boarded the 66 headed east and transferred to the 8 at Halstead to view an exhibition at the gallery: American Framing. The show was originally mounted last year as the Pavilion of the United States at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale and afterward traveled (also not by Greyhound) to the Tadao Ando–designed gallery tucked away o

Chicago’s INVEST South/West yields early initial projects, but not without communication breakdowns along the way

The City of Chicago calls ISW a “global model for urban revitalization.” According to a press release from November 2021, there has been approximately $1.4 billion in investments so far, including $750 million in city funds, $575 million in corporate and philanthropic commitments, and $300 million in planned mixed-use projects. Accounting for the last figure is a series of RFPs issued by the city over the past two years to developers and architects for the redevelopment of sites along commercial

Climate Migration: Imagining adaptable infrastructures as Latin America prepares for an increase in environmental refugees

Infrastructure, in conventional imaginations, exists as a tool of permanence: bridges, roads, sidewalks, and utilities are eternal public goods. Climate change has challenged that reality; extreme, less predictable climates have generated new discourses in adaptation and flexibility as core components of infrastructural resilience in the face of uncertain futures. Design Critics in Urban Planning and Design, Soledad Patiño and Felipe Vera are approaching the notion of adaptable, flexible

Designing More Welcoming Streets? Bring in the Teens

This story was produced by City Bureau and co-published by the Chicago Reader. On a chilly Saturday morning in November, a dozen teens packed into a repurposed storefront in Austin, a neighborhood in the city’s Far West Side. The storefront sits across from a stretch of Chicago Avenue that is peppered with vacant lots –– sparse teeth in an otherwise toothless grin of long-lost buildings. Inside, the walls were covered with sketches, drawings, and layers of colorful sticky notes. Jacara Walker,

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture’s expansion of the Steppenwolf Theatre brings the backstage to the house

Spending closing night of A Christmas Carol in the company of theater geeks—but not being one myself—I watched enviously as my peers galloped and hollered at the cast party in our high school theater backstage. They navigated around strange machineries, like lights and scaffolds and a forest of ropes dangling from ethereal catwalks, disappearing behind doors to reemerge on stage; they knew where all the trapdoors were. Theaters, I learned from this close vantage, are places for architectural mag

A neighborhood rink in the (co)making

According to firm founder Jeanne Gang, the roller rink is “one of a number of outcomes of our larger Neighborhood Activation project in West Garfield Park,” which include physical improvements to pedestrian infrastructure, tree plantings, and general beautification, as well as services like homeless outreach and violence prevention. As important as the rink itself is the architecture firm’s forthcoming "Neighborhood Action Playbook," a booklet that documents the firm’s community engagement proc

Commit to the Crit: The Chicago Architecture Biennial

Earlier this summer, the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development announced that it had formed a Committee on Design from a volunteer coterie of architects, developers, and academics, who will collectively assess development proposals. The initiative had the veneer of a boring legislative body, and yet I was startled as I scanned the list of members. The architect Jeanne Gang stood out, as did a trio of artists: Nick Cave, Theaster Gates, and there at the bottom, Amanda Williams. To me, the move represents a bureaucratization of those with good ideas—with skills and tools and connections to communities and critical practices.

The 2021 edition of Exhibit Columbus asks “What Is the Future of the Middle City?”

Exhibit Columbus: New Middles – From Main Street to Megalopolis, What is the Future of the Middle City? Columbus, Indiana Open through November 28, 2021 On the four-hour drive from Chicago to Columbus, Indiana, romance and romanticization were squarely on my mind. I had heard about the Columbus mythos, in which corporate generosity made the place into a modernist mecca of the Midwest. For an architect of Eero Saarinen’s standing, or his protégé Kevin Roche, Columbus presented itself as an i

Exhibit Columbus explores the interconnected ecosystems and built environments of the Mississippi watershed

In the minds of many coast dwellers, the American middle exists only in reference to their own condition: flyovers, breadbaskets. Middle-ness isn’t a state of being in and of itself but rather an aberrated refraction of the coasts’ sparkling prisms. For those who live in the middle, their existence and identities are fractured between geography, industry, and policy, while being outwardly lumped into regionalisms: the Midwest, the heartland. At this year’s Exhibit Columbus (Indiana, that is), wh

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

At Tuskegee University, an architecture professor leverages historic preservation goals to meet community ones

Traces of the past at Tuskegee University remind attentive students and visitors of the unique social conditions that produced the historic campus. Founded in 1881, the institution was built up by its first group of students and instructors. Their hands made the bricks and mixed the mortar, and if you look closely, you can find their fingerprints preserved in the building facades. “Our campus is a living, organic entity because it was born out of the dirt and shaped by students and faculty,” sa

Ply+ injects bold color and unique geometries into the design of a single-family home

Architecture studio Ply+ designed House P, a slender rectilinear building outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, with two goals: to accommodate the clients’ desire to age in their own home and to showcase their large art collection, which ranges from prints to sculptures. According to firm principal Craig Borum, the two-story house’s sleek form—it contains two bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a kitchen and dining area on the top level, and ample lounge space—was influenced by the site’s steep topograph

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.
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