For 12 years, Chicago architecture firm Perkin's + Will's Design Leadership Council has hosted an internal competition among their young, emerging designers, challenging them to seek solutions to urban and environmental problems.
Now, the council is teaming up with the Chicago Architecture Biennial to turn the competition outward and share it with the greater design community. The challenge: produce a design for a high-profile piece of land along the South Branch of the Chicago River which has sat vacant for years.
"The 200+ acres of land, just south of Chicago's urban core, is one of the largest remaining areas that is looking for a creative solution to vitalize this otherwise underutilized opportunity," Perkins + Will said in a brief laying out the contest's rules.
The vacant land near the Chicago River that Perkins + Will asked its designers to "rethink and redefine."
The resulting master plans will be judged and showcased today at the Chicago Cultural Center by a jury of high-profile designers and architects. The designs went in many different directions, with some architects focusing on preserving Chicago's history and others seeing an opportunity to increase green space. Click on the gallery above to see the firm's top 15 picks (out of 62 entries) for this year's competition.
The property offered up for the competition could certainly use a facelift, and the city knows it.
Despite many grand plans to take advantage of this nearly blank canvas, much of the parcel still stands vacant, and the pressure is on for current owners and developers to get moving on projects to better use these South Loop sites, one of which is Chicago's Old Main Post Office.
The mammoth, 2.7-million-square-foot building last saw mail pass through its doors in 1996, and has awaited redevelopment for nearly two decades. Current owner Bill Davies tried and failed to make something new of the aged office. The search for a developer continues.
Just south of the old post office, there's another talked-about strip of vacant property: a half-mile stretch along the river from Roosevelt Road to Chinatown. But unlike the post office plot, this land remains a building-free wasteland, surrounded by train tracks and the nearby rail yard. The future of these 62 acres looks brighter, though, as developer Related Midwest zeroed in on the plot in May, with plans to work with the owner, General Mediterranean Holding, to develop it.
Although not many plans are set in stone for this urban real estate, one South Loop site included in the competition zone—13 acres between Harrison Street and Roosevelt—has been slated for residential, retail and commercial development in a partnership between developer Lend Lease and CMK Companies. The plan to revitalize this site has a hefty price tag and a 10-year timeline, but it's a start for the redevelopment of the long-barren land.