Searl Lamaster Howe

Searl Lamaster Howe

Chicago, IL



This was the firm’s entry in the Big. Bold. Visionary Exhibit celebrating the centennial of the Burnham Plan of Chicago. While the Burnham Plan is most widely identified with its impact on the lakefront of the city, its aim was far more encompassing, looking at the metropolitan area as a whole. This design proposal considers how the spirit of the Burnham Plan can be manifested in other areas of the city. Of interest are underutilized expanses of land; sites cleared for construction that never came, unused city property, or those properties left over after industry and commerce have vacated. How can a small gesture on an otherwise idle site lead to larger, community-based, meaningful, and sustainable changes? In bread making, a starter, also known as a “biga” in Italian, is used to activate the yeast and initiate the leavening process. The yeast is the workhorse of the process but without the starter, little would happen. How can architecture play the role of the starter? 

The period for architecture to serve as a starter would be a bit longer than that for a loaf of bread. We propose temporarily installing a series of functional elements missing from a neighborhood for a period of three years. The ownership of the sites could remain unchanged since the installation would not be not permanent. The programmatic functions would fulfill resident needs, create a neighborhood meeting and socialization point, and help to foster a community spirit and identity. People seek out amenities, vitality, safety, and identify when they chose where to live, work, shop, and play in the city. Our hope is that these added community centers spur permanent revitalization. Housing would be renovated and newly built. Businesses would be drawn to the increased activity in the area. A reinforced community spirit would spur the addition of public amenities.

To facilitate setup and relocation, a series of multipurpose movable structures would be installed as off-the-grid as possible: solar arrays and wind foils would provide power while grey water would be collected for reuse. The temporary structures would contain a variety of functions - police station annexes, convenience stores, day care centers, meeting spaces - the exact mix would depend on the needs of a given site. With these structures anchoring the space, the rest of the land would be set aside for temporary playgrounds, water features, ice rinks, and community gardens. At the end of the three year tenure the caravan of structures would be packed up and moved to another site. The subsequent function of the site would be determined by the nature of the area it has catalyzed. Should the required funding be arranged, the site could become a permanent public park, school, or cultural institution. If not, the new vitality of the neighborhood could now support commercial enterprises. 

This vision’s purpose is not to define a future use. Rather the goal is to revitalize communities, which would in turn create the demand for a variety of functions. The value in the architecture is not the constructions themselves but in what they instigate.

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Status: Unbuilt
Location: Chicago, IL, US
Firm Role: Architect of Record