Photograph: Mason PritchettFOOD FOR THOUGHT Archeworks students designed the Mobile Food Collective to act as a traveling classroom and community center.

New Chicago design projects

Union Station's renovation, the Fresh Moves Mobile Market and the Mobile Food Collective are among the new Chicago design projects moving forward or already finished.


Don’t waste time grieving for the Chicago Spire. Our skyline doesn’t need a 150-story cross between a drill bit and a dildo, and with the tower’s studios starting at $750,000, even its closets would have been out of most Chicagoans’ reach. But there are plenty of other local projects to fill the hole left by the Spire’s failure. Though smaller than Santiago Calatrava’s skyscraper, they’ll benefit a lot more people.

Fresh Moves Mobile Market will open this spring or summer—in a decommissioned CTA bus. Architecture for Humanity Chicago is retrofitting the vehicle so it can bring fresh produce to the city’s “food deserts.” According to an oft-cited 2006 report by researcher Mari Gallagher, these areas lacking sources of healthful food are home to more than 600,000 Chicagoans.

Local nonprofit Food Desert Action asked AFHC to design Fresh Moves Mobile Market as a cheaper, more flexible alternative to a conventional grocery store, AFHC codirector Katherine Darnstadt explains. Her organization’s volunteer design team preserved the bus’s center aisle, grab bars (which will be incorporated into shelving) and seats for the driver and cashier. In the future, AFHC hopes to install a biodiesel fuel system and solar panels to power the bus’s heating and air conditioning.

The Fresh Moves Mobile Market will debut in Lawndale multiple days each week, making two-hour stops at community-oriented sites such as schools, churches and hospitals. “The ongoing goal is to take this model and say, ‘Any major city can replicate this,’” Darnstadt says, “because it is this disused piece of infrastructure that you already have.” AFHC is also assisting with the design development of Whittier Elementary School’s La Casita fieldhouse in Pilsen, which Chicago Public Schools agreed to turn into a library after parents staged a 43-day sit-in.

The Mobile Food Collective, a so-called traveling cultural center designed and built by grad students from Chicago’s Archeworks school, already conducts workshops and cooking demonstrations around the city.

The MFC has what cocreator Derek Layes describes as a “guerrilla” setup: Its centerpiece is the “mother ship,” a ten-foot-long, wheeled tablelike structure that’s towed by car. Bikes with custom-made trailers can carry materials for programs at the “mother ship” or visit neighborhoods individually; portable storage modules double as seats.

This fun, inviting design helps the MFC fulfill its educational mission without coming off as preachy. “We wanted to have an exchange where we’ll give you a recipe if you give us a recipe,” Layes says. “…We want to have a dialogue with the community.”

Even Amtrak’s moving full speed ahead—on a $40 million renovation to Union Station (225 S Canal St) that may make train delays easier to handle. The project, overseen by Jones Lang LaSalle, adds new restrooms to the concourse level, expands existing lounge space and puts a new lounge below the staircase where the baby-carriage scene from The Untouchables was filmed. (Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari expects the whole project to be completed in 2012 or 2013.)

The railroad also promises to reinstall air conditioning in the station’s Great Hall before the summer—for the first time since the early 1960s. That improvement’s not as flashy as the Spire, but it’s still pretty cool.

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