Location: ChicagoDesign consultants: PORT UrbanismDecorative stone: Lake Street Supply
Crushed granite pathway: Kafka Granite
Custom cubbies: Landscape Forms
Light boxes: Landscape Forms
Fixtures and fittings: Studio 431
PORT Urbanism designed Chicago’s Lakeview Low-Line to be a community art space. When the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce drafted its master plan in 2012, among its top priorities was developing the underutilized right-of-way and Chicago Transit Authority maintenance path along the city’s “L” tracks between the Southport and Paulina stations on the Brown Line. Working with the manufacturer Landscape Forms’ Studio 431, PORT created a series of bright yellow rectangular boxes, or “cubbies,” as a new take on public furnishing.
The carved-out forms of the Low-Line’s cubbies take cues from the interiors of the “L” train cars and the shape of the tracks overhead. The transit system had more than just an aesthetic influence; the cubbies needed to be movable for track repair and the possibility of excavation to rebuild the train structure’s column footings. The custom furniture rethinks durability, access, and comfort while accommodating a range of programs.
The Low-Line was designed to create a lively place for commuters, residents, and tourists to enjoy public art. It includes a picnic table, a vendor booth-cum-bar, and two cantilevered cubbies that frame the entry made of powder-coated steel exteriors and slatted ipe wood interiors. Power is integrated into the cubbies for controlled access by vendors and musicians. Studio 431 also manufactured easily replaceable panels and tamper-resistant fasteners to account for wear and tear. The first phase of the half-mile-long art walk and garden opened to the public in 2018 as a celebration of the neighborhood’s culture and is part of a larger project that aims to encourage use of the L and other mass transit lines as a sustainable alternative to driving.
The Regional Plan Association (RPA) has unveiled the final designs for the Fourth Regional Plan. The four schemes envision a New York–New Jersey–Connecticut metropolitan area 25 years into the future while addressing the emerging challenges the region faces and also capitalizing on new opportunities.
Initiated by The Rockefeller Foundation, the competition began in January and asked architects, planners, and designers to incorporate elements such as policy changes, future investments, and growth patterns into the plans. The winning proposals were selected in March and, through a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation, they were each awarded $45,000 to work with RPA and a team of professionals to develop their ideas further. In doing so, the four winners expanded their programs, looking at four regional corridors. Dubbed "4C," the RPA describes the designs as a "principal component" of its upcoming Fourth Regional Plan, titled A Region Transformed.
The four corridors in question are:
Rafi A+U and DLAND Studio
Creating what they call a "bight," the two studios propose an artificial coastline that bridges the boundary between the built environment and the water, addressing rising sea levels around Long Island with half-submerged communities able to continue living when change inevitably happens.
Only If and One Architecture
Defined as the "Triboro Corridor," the plan sees light rail utilizing already-laid freight rail tracks in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. The project would foster development around the new stations; new rail service would connect to existing subway and commuter rail lines. As One Architecture told The Architect's Newspaper, the plan aims to "transform the region’s transportation system from a hub and spoke system to a more resilient network with circumferential connections, greater redundancy, and community amenities."
Just as with Only If and One Architecture's scheme, WORKac's plan is centered around transit and connecting underserved neighborhoods around a ring of suburbs from the New York cities of Port Chester and White Plains, through the New Jersey cities of Paterson, Montclair, Rahway and Perth Amboy.
PORT Urbanism and Range
Covering the entire region, this proposal spans from the Delaware River to Northern Connecticut. The scheme allows wildlife—not humans—to enjoy the area and migrate north as a result of climate change. The Highlands Corridor would also utilize streams and valleys to connect to the coast.
An exhibition of the of final design can be found at Fort Tilden through September 17. Find out more here.
Last night the Regional Plan Association (RPA) unveiled designs from four teams that address the future of infrastructure and resilience in the tristate area.
The nonprofit, boosted by a Rockefeller Foundation grant, asked seven firms across four teams—WORKac; Rafi Segal and DLANDstudio; PORT Urbanism + RANGE; as well as Only If and One Architecture—to show how policymakers, designers, and citizens, could best prepare four geographies within the region for the next quarter-century. (The Architect's Newspaper covered the competition in March when the firms were selected.)
The competitionasked the groups to zero in on revamping New York City's inner ring suburbs; creating coastal buffers; improving local waterways; and linking the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn by passenger rail, respectively. The competition coincides with RPA's fourth regional plan, A Region Transformed, due out later this year.
Until then, take a look at their ideas in the gallery above, or if you're at the beach anytime in August or September, go see the designs—and give feedback—at Fort Tilden in the Rockaways. See rpa.org for more details.
Today the Regional Plan Association (RPA) announced the winners of an inaugural design competition that asked participants to envision a more resilient and equitable future for the tristate area.
The New York–based group, in collaboration with CUNY's Catherine Seavitt and Princeton University's Guy Nordenson and Paul Lewis, selected four teams to rethink the region's approach to designing natural and artificial infrastructure.
Armed with $45,000 apiece from the Rockefeller Foundation, WORKac, PORT + RANGE, Only If + One Architecture, and Rafi Segal A+U will focus on the typology of the suburb, the forest, the city, and the coast, respectively. The teams, diverse but drawing heavily from MIT DUSP's faculty rolls, will work with RPA's team to refine their projects in advance of a June public presentation.
WORKac's project will explore new modes of mixed-use development to address issues facing inner ring suburbs from White Plans and Port Chester, New York through Paterson, Montclair, Rahway and Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Meanwhile, PORT + RANGE's focus extends from the Delaware River to northern Connecticut to engage the less populous—but crucially important—periphery. Designers at New York's Only If will team up with Dutch spatial planning firm One Architecture to link the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn more effectively, while Rafi Segal and landscape architect Susannah Drake, together with with Sarah Williams, Brent Ryan and Greg Lindsay, will consider the coastal ecological infrastructure from Atlantic City to Montauk that mitigates potentially devastating impacts of sea level rise.
The designers' schemes will inform RPA's fourth regional plan, due out later this year.
“In the past three regional plans, design work was crucial to imagining the future of the region and to making that future legible through innovative representations,” said Lewis, associate dean of the Princeton University School of Architecture, in a prepared statement. “From Hugh Ferriss’s atmospheric renderings to Rai Okamoto’s access diagrams, RPA’s plans have provided unique opportunities for advancing design innovation in concert with visionary transformation of the region. The challenge to the four teams is to build upon that history and envision the future structured around a more expansive notion of 'corridor,' including transportation, ecology, access, and equity.”
In an effort to advocate for a continuous trail along vast lengths of the Chicago River, the Active Transportation Alliance recently released its Chicago River Trail Action Plan. The hope is to connect existing trails and parks throughout the city with the North and South Branches of the Chicago river. The plan outlines key steps by which the trail could be realized.
Currently, about half of the Chicago River's 27 miles of riverfront have existing trails, with more trails already planned. As the downtown Chicago Riverwalk has recently been completed, the focus on improvements to the river is now shifting out into the neighborhoods. By working with community organizations in neighborhoods along the river, the Active Transportation Alliance specifically highlights seven more miles of riverfront as likely candidates for new trails. Perhaps the most notable recommendation in the Action Plan is to connect some of the city’s newest and proposed parks, as well as multiple proposed developments, to the river. If connected, the network of parks and trails would directly serve the more than 900,000 Chicagoans that live within one mile of the River.
On the near north side, the 606 linear park currently stops just short of the river, while the El Paseo Trail on the near south side will have a similar situation. The current redevelopment of the former Lathrop Homes public housing projects and the anticipated redevelopment of the industrial Goose Island both are being planned with the river as a main feature. Yet building along the river is not always a simple matter. In certain sections of the river, no path can be built on land. In these areas floating or suspended decks will have to be used.
The Action Plan divides the river into seven zones. Assets and opportunities for each zone are listed along with a list of actionable steps for local stakeholders to take. For many of the zones, plans have already been proposed by designers, planners, and architects. As outlined in the plan, PORT Urbanism is responsible for an intricate path that would connect the 606 park with the river trail, while Ross Barney Architects has designed other sections of the river, including the now completed downtown Riverwalk.
Other input on the plan came from a variety of sources including architecture firms such as Perkins & Will, Moss Deisgn, and Hoerr Schaudt, as well as other public space advocacy groups like the Metropolitan Planning Council, the North River Commission, and the Friends of the Chicago River.
The full plan can be found here.
PORT Urbanism is positioning itself to fill a very particular niche in the world of city making. The office is neither a landscape firm nor an architecture firm alone: It approaches projects with a vision that ranges from grand scheme master plans down to design at a human scale. With the recent addition of a new partner, it now has the pedigree and experience to engage in the high-stakes projects that are so often handed to firms many times its size. More and more often those projects involve the waterfronts of postindustrial cities across the country, and with a name like PORT, the firm is not surprisingly ready for the challenge.
PORT’s new partner, Megan Born, comes to the firm from James Corner Field Operations (JCFO), where she spent eight years as a designer and project manager. While at JCFO, she was lead designer on the much-anticipated Waterfront Seattle Program master plan, as well as project designer on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront in Hong Kong. Her expertise will complement that of PORT partner Christopher Marcinkoski, who was a senior associate at JCFO before cofounding PORT. Marcinkoski, a licensed architect and a Rome Prize Fellow, also contributed expertise in waterfront design, as he was project lead on the Qianhai Water City district of Shenzhen, China, while at JCFO. Both work at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia—Born as a lecturer and Marcinkoski as an associate professor of landscape architecture and urban design.
Currently working with the ambitious young R2 developers in Chicago, PORT is in the process of envisioning the future of Goose Island. An industrial island in the middle of the Chicago River’s North Branch, Goose Island is poised to become one of the city’s most dynamic neighborhoods. Currently, it is completely zoned for industry, but as the surrounding neighborhoods quickly develop, the smart bet is on it becoming more programmatically diverse. PORT’s master plan takes into account the uncertainty of the island’s future while proposing improvements that will benefit whatever eventually happens there.
The island was formed by a canal that was dug to straighten out the river, a common occurrence in 19th-century Chicago. Now, however, that canal is no longer navigable. PORT imagines that this wet, and currently polluted, stretch of water can become an integral and unique part of the river’s rehabilitation into a recreational corridor. It is clear that it is only a matter of time before this prime location, just minutes outside of the downtown, will be more than a sleepy maze of shuttered warehouses and factories. PORT and R2 plan to be there to guide the way.
“Some of the largest attributes of water and waterfronts are their scale and connectivity,” explained Andrew Moddrell, partner and cofounder of PORT. “You always have this edge that you can’t completely occupy: the water. If you can connect the parcels along this edge, you’ll be able to set up the means of an accessibility that is uninterrupted and that unlocks new territories of the city. Previously all of these places were productive industrially by maximizing this connectivity. Now they are ripe again to be reconnected.”
Though PORT may be making a name for itself with waterscape projects, what defines the practice is its particular approach. Whether a waterfront, and urban park, or a former industrial district, PORT is not interested in simply drawing large arrows on maps and saying how great it would be to have a bike share program in the area. Instead, it does the math, talks to the stakeholders, and designs a way to achieve their vision, down to the individual’s experience. This separates them from other landscape firms that might only focus on the space around the buildings, as well as from the urban planner who so often provides bullet point guidance without a true design component. Add in the fact that two of the partners are licensed architects, and the firm’s thorough approach begins to make sense. There are few firms that are able, or willing, to take on the complex types of projects that PORT has made its bread and butter.
This article was part of our Oct. 12 issue which focused on how water is shaping today’s landscape architecture and urbanism. Communities face deluges and droughts—for some, the stakes can be survival itself, but others see opportunities for decadence. To explore these stories from around the U.S. and the world, click here.
It is sometimes difficult for people who encounter PORT Urbanism’s work to know whether the projects are hypothetical or practical urban proposals. Despite this confusion, PORT would tell you that all of its work is practical, if not sometimes fantastic.
With small offices in Chicago and Philadelphia, PORT Urbanism fits into a niche of designers that are not typical urban planners and not strictly architects. As its name would suggest, it works at the urban scale, engaging with city governments and large-scale developers to envision near and far futures for public spaces.
AN visited the firm’s Chicago office, which seats four in a small space on the ninth floor of the Burnham and Root–designed Monadnock Building. The office walls are plastered, floor to ceiling, in bright renderings, small models, site photos, and marker-laden site maps. Partner Andrew Moddrell and two employees make up the Chicago office, while the Philadelphia office is comprised of partner Christopher Marcinkoski and one other employee. Moddrell and Marcinkoski started PORT in 2012. With the support of academic positions at the University of Illinois Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania, they were able to practice on their own terms.
Despite PORT’s small size, it is no stranger to large and complex projects. After being chosen from a request for proposal for a Denver park design with Denver-based Independent Architecture, a NIMBY battle ensued. The project was eventually moved and redesigned for a new park in a neighborhood with a community that appreciated the project. PORT is now moving forward through design development with an improved plan.
Presented at the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Big Shift envisioned adding a new coastline and additional land east of Millennium and Grant Parks in downtown Chicago. While dismissed by many as too far-fetched, the project struck a chord with critics and the public. “If we had proposed putting an island in Lake Michigan, then nobody would have cared,” Moddrell said. “But when we ground it in the precision of an infrastructural hierarchy and proposed repositioning of Lake Shore Drive, extending boulevards, and turning Grant Park into a Central Park, and pitch it with a straight face, it is not just architects screwing around for other architects.” Moddrell stands by the idea, however grandiose, as a serious, though speculative proposal.
Carbon T.A.P. (Tunnel Algae Park)New York, New York
Winner of the WPA 2.0 competition, the Carbon T.A.P. envisions a carbon-harvesting algae park attached to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The speculative project proposes to use carbon dioxide released by cars passing through the tunnel to feed algae that can be used to produce oxygen, biofuels, bioplastics, nutraceuticals, and agricultural feeds. Linked to the algae production is a large-scale public space in the form of a swinging bridge. Part of the rationale behind the project is that with the introduction of an innovative industrial infrastructural typology—carbon-reducing algae farms—a new civic infrastructural typology can be realized.
The Big Shift
The Big Shift was originally conceived as an entry to the Art Institute of Chicago’s show Chicagoisms. It was developed further for the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial. The Big Shift proposes to move Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive east and add hundreds of new acres of land in order to expand the city’s downtown and produce hundreds of new acres of park along the lake. Making no small reference to Chicago’s history of reconfiguring its lakeshore, which was mostly fabricated after the 1871 fire, the Big Shift aims to produce trillions of dollars of new real estate. Despite its large upfront infrastructural costs, the plan highlights the advantages of a lakeside park that is three times the size of the current park and of 30 new city blocks of tax-paying, job-producing real estate.
City Loop is a $5 million public park planned for the City of Denver. Comprised of a continuous ribbon of program and activity space, the Loop is designed to encourage healthy lifestyles and active play. A series of tubes, colorful paths, and diverse activity pods stretch over the half-mile loop, providing for every age group and taste. Along with physical health, the park aims to promote social and cultural well-being as a civic and community space. The full team working on the project is PORT, Denver-based Indie Architecture, Indianapolis-based Latitude 39, Boulder, Colorado–based engineers Studio NYL, Denver-based metal fabricators JunoWorks, athletics consultant Loren Landow, and Tulsa, Oklahoma–based contractors Site Masters Inc.
Goose Island 2025
In an ongoing collaboration with Chicago developers R2, PORT’s Goose Island 2025 addresses the large industrial Goose Island on the near North Side of Chicago. A planned manufacturing district, Goose Island is now in the middle of a quickly developing part of the city. The island itself, though, has seen little development due to its designation as a planned manufacturing district and the city’s lack of an overall vision. R2 and PORT’s plan looks at the possibilities of the island as it continues as a place of industry, as well as anticipates a future in which some of its land may become available for other programs.
The international architecture cognoscenti have descended on the Chicago Cultural Center with a motherlode of new content from Thailand to Ecuador, ranging from robotically-assembled structures to investigations into social and infrastructural inequality. The consequences of this assemblage will unfold over the next few months, but one room in the Cultural Center is particularly clear in its ambition and vision for the future.
BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago explores some of the less iconic, more layered pieces of Chicago's urban fabric. Organizer Iker Gil of MAS Studio prompted 18 local designers to make proposals for urban projects around the city. "I wanted to look forward and imagine new possibilities, but remain still attached to reality," said Gil. "We wanted to use the rules but tweak them a little bit to keep them grounded.
Emerging designers such asWEATHERS, Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape and PORT Urbanism were included alongside established designers such as JAHN and Stanley Tigerman. SOM was paired with smaller firm CAMESgibson.
The exhibition prompted designers to tackle key issues at stake in Chicago such as civic, ecological, and infrastructural problems, as well as typological problems like empty lots and high-rises. The projects in the show not only propose new ideas for addressing these issues, but also new ways of conceptualizing an aesthetic project, mostly around bright colors, strong figures, and narrative-based designs.
Design with Company chose to reimagine the 1987 Library Competition with a series of 20 "late entries," many of which were based on comments from the public in response to the original competition. They made a stack of referential forms from Chicago and elsewhere, each making its own story, but also combining for one over-arching narrative.
SOM and CAMESgibson reimagined the high-rise, using Gibson's visions for new ways of living, combined with SOM's high-rise know-how. The result is a prototype tower that would be deployed at L stops around the city, "upping the ante for transit-oriented development," according to Gibson.
URBANLAB proposed to make part of Lake Michigan into a series of filtering civic green spaces that would clean the water, while PORT Urbanism took Lakeshore Drive and put it in the lake to provide a more developable area west of the highway, caving to a law that bans building east of Lakeshore Drive. The resulting space lets a series of towers spring up, which reframes Grant park in a completely new urban condition.
David Brown collected nine vacant lots from Chicago's 15,000, assigning them to local designers who reimagined the rules of the empty lot, making a series of flat surfaces into a new collective public space.
BOLD's local Chicago agenda stands in stark contrast to the international explosion in the other rooms of the main exhibition. The explorations here posit a palpable group of ideas about how to design cities, with the focus on Chicago. What can investigations in a lively urban place like Chicago teach the rest of the world? BOLD embodies much of the Chicago-specific things about the Biennial, with a strong sense of place and a clear mission that translates globally.
The best part of it is that it makes manifest the nascent design scene that has been bubbling up in Chicago for the last seven years. Through strong support from institutions and universities there, this group of young designers has imagined new ways of engaging the city while also forming a cohesive aesthetic and engaging attitude toward architecture in general. So far, it is the locals that are stealing the show.
ChicagoismsArt Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Ilinois
Through January 4, 2015
Chicagoisms is an ongoing exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago that focuses on key historical principles—“Chicagoisms”—that went into creating and shaping the city that we know today. The exhibition was put together by architectural theorist Alexander Eisenschmidt and art historian Jonathan Mekinda working with designer Matt Wizinsky.
The show features interpretations of five Chicagoisms from nine different architects—Bureau Spectacular, DOGMA, MVDRV, Organization for Permanent Modernity, PORT, Sam Jacob, UrbanLab, Weathers, and WW.
The architects paired architectural models with manifestos regarding their significance and present them in juxtaposition with historical black-and-white photographs. The result is a double vision showing both the contrast between the art and architecture of today’s Chicago and that of the past, as well as how historical factors continue to act as a catalyst for contemporary innovators.