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This year marks the third anniversary of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s unveiling of Chicago Model City, the monumental 320-square-foot scale model of downtown Chicago. To take advantage of the model’s full potential, Kate Keleman says she and fellow CAF curator Greg Dreicer are “making it more participatory” to engage the public in urban-design issues. The exhibition “Unseen City: Designs for a Future Chicago,” open now through November 4, inserts visionary but technically feasible architectural projects into Model City. These projects—designed by architecture students from IIT, UIC and Archeworks—tackle perennial environmental and social issues (like water pollution, carbon emissions, suburban relocation and food deserts) and present novel ways in which design solutions can enhance city living. Here’s a sample of the exhibition’s futuristic designs:
Visionary Chicago: Proposals of the past
“Unseen City” includes Visionary Chicago, a video featuring utopian proposals from Chicago’s past. Developed by professor Alexander Eisenschmidt and students at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the video inspired seven scale models that hover over Model City, including Adolf Loos’s Tribune Tower (1922), Mies van der Rohe’s Convention Center (1954) and Stanley Tigerman’s Instant City (pictured, 1966). Eisenschmidt calls this collection of unbuilt projects a kind of “phantom city, a look at what Chicago could have been.”
CO2ngress Gateway Towers: Purifying downtown’s air
According to Keleman, 77,000 vehicles pass over the Congress Parkway interchange each day—pumping an enormous amount of carbon dioxide into the air. The CO2ngress Gateway Towers would function not only as a visual gateway for motorists entering the Loop off the Eisenhower, but also as a giant air filter. Equipped with “carbon scrubbers,” the towers would funnel CO2 to algae farms inside the building. There, algae would consume the CO2 and create biofuel for (ecofriendly) cars.
Designers: Danny Mui and Benjamin Sahagun
The Clean Tower: Engaging the river
Before the founding of the city, the Chicago River was a slow-moving stream that passed through wetlands on its way to Lake Michigan. As the city grew, the marshes were drained, and the river became smelly and polluted. Clean Tower would restore the wetlands along riverbanks and on roofs and terraces. Keleman calls the building a “living machine” that would filter its wastewater through human-made marshes—including one on the roof of the adjacent Merchandise Mart.
Designers: Kyle Bigart and Peter Binggeser
Plymouth Tower: Building family-friendly high-rises
How can the city keep young families from moving to the ’burbs? It could start by building family-friendly residential high-rises containing vertical neighborhoods. Incorporating schools, day care, retail and a transportation hub, Plymouth Tower would build communities within the urban center. Family-sized residences would open onto two- and three-story semi-outdoor atriums containing gardens and communal play spaces. Keleman says these atriums would transform traditional corridors into “residential streets in the sky” enhancing livability for families.
Designers: Christopher Reddy and Matthew Byrne
SkyFarm: Growing food in the city
There’s a monetary cost in transporting food from farms into the city—and an even greater environmental cost, in the form of carbon emissions, in shipping food long-distance from places like California or Chile. SkyFarm would employ large-scale, hydroponic, vertical farming throughout this residential tower to grow food for local consumption. Keleman says multistory openings penetrating the building would bring cross-ventilation and natural daylight into large central spaces used for commercial farming.
Designers: Andrew Lui and Nicandro Sanchez