In the midst of finalizing my research project this past month, I came across an interesting article regarding the new development plan for the Cabrini Green site, which was originally launched seven years ago by local developer Peter Holsten. The proposed redevelopment sparked a lot of discussion between white and African-American buyers, as well as former African-American residents of Cabrini Green. During these discussions, creating a truly diverse community was the main concern.
My research project has reached a phase where I’ve been exploring ways to convert conceptual ideas into reality. I’ve used simple spatial forms made from wood and foam to physicalize how this social housing community can give residents economic independence over time. Then, I went one step further and created mixed-media digital prototypes of the physical models. As a result, I discovered that vertically expanding each space allows for more flexibility as inhabitants incrementally expand their homes.
The Kompas Fellowship has given me an incredible amount of insight into the effects that architecture can have on the human condition.
This past month, I’ve been finalizing my concept for the redesign of the Cabrini Green site. In order to fully visualize the end product, I’ve developed axonometric drawings. These help illustrate how my design begins at a larger scale by re-establishing the site’s grid to better connect with the city, then eventually focuses on individual properties and how they interact with public/shared spaces. Essentially, these drawings demonstrate how the “village within the city” can grow, adjust, and adapt over time while keeping the grid intact.
While using Alejandro Aravena’s ELEMENTAL project as inspiration, I’m working through a plan to implement an incremental housing system at Cabrini Green that allows residents to become economically independent. The plan accommodates within the development both housing needs and workspace needs. Ideally, residents will run their own businesses, thereby creating a diverse destination area.
An architect’s purpose is not only to seek better solutions for the present, but to also consider how designs will adapt as society changes over time. People will constantly grow, adapt, and change – the best thing architects can do is to learn from past mistakes in order to create effective, thoughtful design.
Photo: The project team's site visit to the old banking facility renovation.
To create a community within the city, it’s imperative that the community is not separated from the surrounding city. To ensure immersion and accessibility with the rest of Chicago, the design has evolved to re-establish the southern part of Cabrini Green’s street grid system with the city’s grid.
November was another busy month with two Wintrust Bank projects nearing permit submittal deadlines. In addition to assisting with the design work needed for these permits, I was able to make important progress on my research project—I’m now working with a 3D model of the Cabrini Green site. The model allows for full visualization and experimentation of the design concept.
The latest step in my research project involved calibrating the “village within a city” concept to avoid isolating the site from the rest of the city. To determine the best options for my design plan, a company-wide brainstorming session was held. During the session, I received helpful feedback and advice from the MA staff. And, a recent visit to the old Cabrini Green site provided an opportunity to observe the traffic flow of the existing grid. As a result of this progress, I’m now able to discern specific areas of the site’s grid and visualize my future design.
In order to continue the goal of developing a diverse, mixed-income community, The Plan for Transformation program by CHA proposed a development that consists of low- and mid-rise buildings that cater to a variety of income levels.
An important aspect in attracting pedestrians to the neighborhood is walkability. With this in mind, I strategically placed a bicycle/walking path that leads pedestrians through each zone; visitors will pass local businesses, homes, park areas, and public spaces.
Left to right: Models A, B, and C
In 1995, nearly 50 years after Cabrini Green’s initial units were built, the Frances Cabrini Homes were completed. This was achieved after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was overtaken by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). In lieu of primarily focusing on the single site, the CHA shifted their focus on a more composite transformation plan across the entire city.
The ELEMENTAL approach allows inhabitants to adjust the house based on their personal needs. In the long run it adds value, not only to the house, but also to the neighborhood.
Photo: ELEMENTAL's incremental housing project
Many projects inspired by “The Radiant City” have become a concentration of poverty, crime, and drugs. Critics propose that high-rise buildings are unfit for public housing because the living model often ignores residents’ needs and fails to provide enough space.
The north and east sides of the site—areas that consist of open spaces and new residential developments—are better suited for residents without the current need for a large living space. These units do however still offer the ability to grow as a resident’s need for space increases.
Incremental housing design research for my redesign of Cabrini Green has evolved into master planning exercises lately. I’m working to determine the placement of each housing style within the overall master plan using family size as the basis.
Left to right: Public, Semi-Private, and Private housing styles.
Cabrini Green’s living model was inspired by Le Corbusier’s ‘’The Radiant City’’, a vision of what an ideal city should look like. According to Le Corbusier, a high-rise building functions as “a living machine” with open green spaces, providing ample access to sunlight. The idea is that this approach provides inhabitants with an enhanced lifestyle.
On the southwest section of the site, incremental residential units with retail space on the lower level are most suitable for families and business owners. These units are located near the main street and the Chicago Riverwalk, ultimately enhancing the ability for residents to reach potential customers and gain economic independence.
Recently, I’ve attempted to understand why Cabrini Green became an island of poverty surrounded by rich neighborhoods. Similar to many other failed public housing projects, such as the Robert Taylor Homes and Pruitt Igoe, Cabrini Green consisted of high-rise buildings spread across a large green area.
Growing up in Thailand, I was raised in a “village” environment, where homes were near one another and were of similar layouts. Although each home was basically the same shape, they each had unique characteristics, because residents stylized and/or expanded their houses to fit their personal tastes. When walking through the neighborhood, each public space felt different, because residents created well-defined areas – this made it easy to identify and navigate through each section of the village.
Grouped Models: An example of how the models could interact with each other within the community
Photo: Superkilen designed by Superflex
Photo: 3-D Model of the Cabrini Green site
Another project that I’ve been using as inspiration is the Superkilen, an urban park in Copenhagen designed by Superflex. Using the concept of “extreme participation”, over 100 different objects from 50 different countries were chosen by Copenhagen residents and implemented into the park’s design. This project, commissioned by the City of Copenhagen, engaged the entire community.
Employing the grid system and component layout approaches helps to ensure the “community” concept is not compromised. It distinguishes open gathering spaces that will remain steadfast within this ever-evolving neighborhood.
After World War 2, many African Americans moved from the south side of Chicago to Cabrini Green and the area became even more crowded. To solve these problems, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) put up some public housing projects consisting of massive super blocks of high rise apartments. These concrete buildings isolated Cabrini Green from the rest of the neighborhoods and created a dense concentration of poverty. For many years, Cabrini Green became known for gangs, drugs and illegal activities until the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development took control in 1995, and started the transformation of Cabrini Green by the demolishing all of the high-rise apartments. After this, they replaced the former buildings with mixed-income residential housing buildings.
The idea of merging a large variety of cultures in one part of the city coincides with what I’d like to achieve at the Cabrini Green site. Ultimately, the new Cabrini Green neighborhood will be a place where outsiders can come and experience a diverse community curated by residents.
Currently, I am collecting ideas and combining them into one design concept. This effort involved a firm-wide brainstorming session which was very helpful and resulted in many excellent ideas. Next, I plan to divide the site into different mixed-use zones while working to understand how each zone can be integrated with the others.
Photo: MFO Park in Zurich, Switzerland
My time at Myefski Architects has come to an end. Working in a professional studio has given me valuable, practical knowledge, as well as confidence for my future career as an architect. I’m very grateful to have gained real-world experience in addition to have explored my own interests. I’m looking forward to using this experience in ensuing roles.
In order to establish connections from the east and west sides of the city, I’ve merged North Crosby Street and West Locust Street, which connects to North Orleans Street. These new connections establish access points to the rest of Chicago, while still keeping the “village in the city” neighborhood.
The path system will be further enhanced with the adjacent placement of residential developments each featuring public courtyards. This design approach creates an area where consumer and producer meet.
As the private market began to play a bigger role over the years, most buildings on the site have been demolished. The rowhouses are the only remaining structures on the Cabrini Green site. Although the city could easily sell the property to a private developer at a large profit, the CHA will keep the land for affordable housing use.
ELEMENTAL, a public housing project in Chile, designed by Alejandro Aravena, is a good example of human-scale housing that can be maintained more efficiently. ELEMENTAL’s incremental housing approach gives an inhabitant a house which starts out with a kitchen, bathroom, and living room. The rest of the house is developed by the inhabitant when their needs and financial situation allows.
For now, I’ve focused on three initial schemes:
The month of December went by very quickly with many events taking place at Myefski Architects. In addition to working on several projects with the design team, I assisted the Marketing Department in the design and assembly of customized chocolate gift box sets. The box sets were holiday gifts sent to the firm’s clients. Surprisingly, I put to good use my model building skills during this delicious endeavor.
Recently, I’ve coordinated the assembly of various material samples for two bank renovation projects underway. The banks, located in the same city, are branches of the same financial institution. The material palettes are intentionally complementary, but there are deliberate distinctions that are designed to appeal to the banks variety of clients.
Project assignments during October focused on renovation projects for two Wintrust Bank facilities located right here in Evanston. As an intern-level member of the project team, I’ve gained a basic understanding of each design phase, which I’ve been applying to my ongoing research project.
The idea of creating an affordable, yet desirable “village within the city”, is my primary goal. Developments and programs created by private firms and the CHA are a great start. Using them as inspiration, my project takes these plans a step further by reconnecting Cabrini Green to the rest of the city.
September was a busy month at the studio of Myefski Architects and it’s hard to believe we’re already moving into the fall season. At the office, I have been working on many different project-related tasks, from site model making to construction drawings.
While researching the future of Cabrini Green, I came across a development plan launched in 2013 by the Chicago Housing Authority. The plan presented criteria aimed to help Cabrini Green become a better neighborhood. Inspired by this plan and its criteria, I established four guidelines that I’ll use in the next phase of my research project:
With these guidelines in mind, I can explore the idea of creating a local community within the big city—specifically for the area of rowhouses between North Hudson and North Larrabee Street, which currently have a strict grid system. These traditional rowhouses will be replaced with housing units that create a diverse movement throughout the site and allow the residents to socialize, which will ultimately foster a healthy living environment.
Modeling building is still in progress. Next up, I’ll work to optimize placements within the community and the surrounding area.
These multi-functional common spaces have simple, adaptable designs. Inhabitants have a space to meet and interact, and the space will transform as their needs change over time. An excellent example of this idea is the MFO Park in Zurich, Switzerland. The design of MFO Park evolved over the years integrating a variety of indoor and outdoor elements including a walkable trellis, benches, seating terraces, and sundecks.
Check out my timelapse sketch video below, a part of my final research project:
After my visit, it was apparent that North Hudson Street and North Cambridge Avenue should remain “as is”. These streets connect Cabrini Green with the north and south side of the city.
Photo: This diagram shows how the strict grid system will be broken up to create a more diverse and inviting neighborhood.
Current urban developments, such as the 606, the River Walk and the remaking of Goose Island, make Cabrini Green an interesting site to redesign housing units for a more sustainable and contemporary perspective. Strategizing how the development can adapt to its current surrounding area while simultaneously inviting new residents to be a part of the community will be another interesting aspect of my research.
Similar to the Elderly Housing project by Junya Ishigami, a residential center designed as a village with structures that vary based on their geographic location and style, my concept demonstrates the idea that every home has a particular style, ultimately helping the occupant’s sense of direction when moving through each section of the site.
Building on the concept of the grid system, recent work has focused on component layouts within each zone. This process consists of analyzing 3D models and determining areas where consumers and producers meet. The exercise involves visualizing common areas that can easily adapt to the changing needs of consumers.
In my research, I’ve learned that Chicago is a great example of this - it is a hub of innovative architecture, a place where the skyscraper was born, but it is also the city where the most notorious public housing high-rise crisis took place. Keeping this in mind, my redesign of Cabrini Green creates a diverse community that adapts as the population changes and grows.
As a result of this recent effort, the design now categorizes housing types to cater to the needs of each family size as follows:
After months of anticipation, Myefski Architects relocated their headquarters to the beautiful Wrigley Building in downtown Chicago. As an architect, I’m particularly excited to be working in such an iconic and architecturally-significant structure.
During my time as an Architectural Fellow at Myefski Architects, I will have the opportunity to explore my interest in social housing development and learn from Myefski’s residential projects. Aside from working on the firm’s projects, I have been doing some research about Chicago’s social housing history. My interest was caught by one of the most notorious social housing projects in the city, Cabrini Green.
The effort to rebuild Cabrini Green has made significant progress. Following suggestions from the MA staff, I revisited the site in order to successfully determined specific master plan-type zones.
Model: Adaptable cube-shaped residences and businesses are placed along a pedestrian path.
Recent project work has involved on-site field measuring for the renovation and transformation of an old banking facility into a multi-tenant office building. We captured accurate measurements for use in creating a 3D model and generated a detailed assessment of the current structure. The assessment determined that several historic elements of the building will remain intact; these elements include a large metal vault in the basement, the entrance staircase, and the second floor mezzanine.
Cabrini Green is situated next to some affluent neighborhoods in Chicago (Old Town, Gold Coast, and Lincoln Park) and only one mile from the downtown. Historically, Cabrini Green has been labeled as a “slum” or “ghetto” since the first settlement back in the 1850’s by Irish workers. The area was known as “Little Hell” because of the poor and overcrowded living conditions.
A grid system defines public and private spaces across the re-imagined Cabrini Green site. The common spaces are mostly open areas that will be surrounded by cube-shaped residences and businesses, creating a “village within the city” feel. The grid system maintains the general layout of the site but allows buildings to expand and change over time.
To achieve this, it was proposed that half of the units will be market-rate, 30 percent will be the CHA’s public housing, and 20 percent will be partially subsidized.
Twenty years after the demolition, Cabrini Green now consists of large vacant spaces, park areas, sports areas and new residential apartments. The only projects still standing are the rowhouses between North Hudson and North Larrabee Street. With many vacant units and fences around them, these units are isolated and disconnected from the surrounding environments.
In 1996, Landon Bone Baker Architects were named the ‘Realistic Idealists’ by The Chicago Tribune, after proposing a re-development of the site that involved the entire community – residents would participate in training workshops in various maintenance trades (plumbing, HVAC, carpentry, etc.) in order to perform routine upkeep within the community. Although this idea didn’t quite take off, the firm continued their mission to improve the area with the residential development Terrace 459, which was completed in 2016. Located at the edge of Old Town, the development consists of residents of various incomes, creating a diverse community.
Photo: Material samples for the two banking facilities.
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