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Chicago shares more than 600 weird and wonderful ideas for winterizing outdoor dining

From heated pods to floating restaurants, these are the proposals the city is reviewing.

Morgan Olsen
Written by
Morgan Olsen

Last month, the city of Chicago launched its Winter Design Challenge, a contest that called upon the public to help figure out how outdoor dining can continue long into the cold months. Now, you can browse the 643 design ideas that were submitted before the winning ideas are selected in October.

The plans range from practical to edgy to whimsical. There are budget-friendly greenhouses, snow globe-inspired "nosh pods," and repurposed school buses and shipping containers. One plan even suggests using city-owned buildings to host rotating restaurant experiences. Some are submitted by individuals, while others are dreamed up by local and international architectural firms. Each plan includes a technical overview, user research, COVID safety protocols and information on equity and feasibility. In other words, plenty of folks put a lot of time and energy into their proposals. (Others did not.)

The rendering pictured above was created by Evanston-based firm DMAC Architecture, who are responsible for the sleek designs at Midtown Athletic Club and downtown's Roka Akor. They'd like to see the city host an annual event called Chicago Winter Fe(a)st, which uses soft-sided tractor trailers to create pop-up style restaurants all over the city.

The ideas will be vetted by area restaurants and community members before three winners are announced in October, each netting a $5,000 cash prize and the chance to see their visions brought to life. In the meantime, you can browse the 600-plus proposals and start envisioning what Chicago's outdoor dining scene could look like when the weather turns.

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