Morten Kristensen

May 2017

"All grown-ups were once children... but only few of them remember it." (The Little Prince)

The research project and this blog as part of such is meant as a means rather than an end, a toolset to be used, played with and reused again. Born out of a personal interest in urban design and the social and sensory activation implied, it aspires to inspire others that may stumble upon it, much like the theory concepts discussed and the design ideas proposed here.

The design of the north tip of Goose Island builds itself into the transitional times of the island, creating an outdoor space of playful architecture in the midst of grand visions - which may or may not come to pass. However, the proposed design hopes to ease the transition between such large scale urban visions and the built environment of the city. By addressing the gap between the dreamt notion of tomorrow and the reality of today, the design hopes to shorten the distance, bringing attention to previous design ideas through new ones.

Working within Myefski Architects for the past year has brought me much practical knowledge and studio experience, bridging the gap between the theoretical architecture taught at university and the practical tools applied in the profession, all of which I am very grateful. As the project is coming to a halt, the research goes on. Understanding how well-designed urbanscapes stimulate urban life is a contentious effort, transitional if you will.

Read Bridging the Gap, the culmination of my research, findings, and ideas that were realized throughout my fellowship.

“The mere mention of the name is enough to make the esthetic squirm, as Goose island neither sounds, looks, nor smells right [… but] if converted into a beautiful park, as it easily could be, it would be a veritable oasis where now it is worse than the abomination of desolation.

It would be open and accessible by land and water to the poor and rich alike, which the lake front is not and never will be, to the poor, at least. If Chicago looks forward to improving and beautifying her river water front she can choose no better time and place than now and Goose Island.”

 This charming statement from the Chicago Tribune could have been published yesterday, but the time and place the author—Frank A. Dearborn—is referring to is Chicago of 1909. Though the article dates back more than 100 years, it is rather striking how accurately it resonates with the Chicago of today.

Currently, 945,000 Chicagoans live within one mile of the Chicago River, approximately 35% of the population. Therein lies great opportunity, a notion that has surfaced the waters of the city lately.

In the wake of the Mayor’s initiative Our Great Rivers, the Active Transportation Alliance a few months ago published the Chicago River Trail Action Plan envisioning a continuous riverfront trail extending the south and north branch of the river. The plan calls for a corridor linking the many bits and pieces of existing trail that are cherished by the people living nearby, but otherwise not living out their full potential.

The north tip of Goose Island is a perfect example of a ’lone star site’. It is a beautiful place with water, low-stress surroundings and great views. But, to get there and get out of there is a hassle. As so many other great pedestrian and bike friendly places in the city, the site starts and ends so abruptly, absorbed in traffic.

It is characteristically similar to the train tracks and river to which the site neighbors. Without association to a greater system, the otherwise great space becomes underused and inactive. The train does not fare long without tracks and the water stagnates and pollutes without a flow and supply of fresh water.

Without really noticing it, the bike ride that took me to Goose Island in the first place was just as much part of the research as the site itself. I have spent a long time studying various sites of interest across the city but just as much time, if not more, in between.

The site is a start and an end. The idea is to create an atmosphere in this very special place in the city that will draw people’s attention to it and to the grander issue it exemplifies, connecting people to a diverse network of low-stress spaces, the city’s backyard playground.

Stay up to date with my research by following the Kompas Fellows on Instagram @KompasFellowship.

Morten Kristensen

March 2017

The project site marks a start and an end as the small strip of riverfront trail – a patch of breathing space in the city – terminates there just as unexpectedly as it started. But as the walkway ends, the mind start to wander – a point of departure for this research project.

I have spent the last month with thoughts wandering all over the place, wondering how to extend the boundaries and attach this isolated oasis to the river flowing by and to the city at large. After revisiting the site physically and theoretically, what continually stands out is the nearby steel frame bridge and the train tracks crossing the water, cutting through the site, leading the strip of pedestrian path to the west and leaving a ‘none-space’ to the east.

Technically known as Bridge Z-2, the bob-tail swing bridge – the only one of two left of its kind in Chicago – was designated a historical landmark in 2007. As it has always been the only way in and out for the many freight trains of Goose Island, this one crucial set of rails splits off into two on the site. Nowadays, most of the tracks are gone, but this split-off would reoccur some 80 times going south, soon turning into a complex infrastructural network of train tracks forking out into a delta of parallel and intercrossing tracks, connecting the many industrial companies on the island. A reminiscence of the industrial heritage, pieces of the grid of bygone tracks that in its current state lead ‘nowhere’ are not limited to the site but can still be found throughout the island, much like the patches of riverfront trail that still is to be connected throughout the city.

Softening the distinction between start and end, past and post, the design of the site proposes a network of steel frame tubes following a curved parallel grid similar to the train tracks. Here the network bends two-ways, rising from the dirt in vertical waves, forming a maze-like framework and sparking visual curiosity. Instead of polluted dirt, the ground may well be laid out with a soft padding material making the underlay more like running tracks replacing the original train tracks and creating an atmosphere of playful interaction.

 The design ideas are too many to be stated here and will be development continuously in the coming months. 

Stay up to date with my research by following the Kompas Fellows on Instagram @KompasFellowship.

Morten Kristensen

October 2016

As we sailed the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen to its final design, I was just about to embark on the Goose Island expedition when another design competition hit the deck (my desk). Luckily, no man is overboard though the deadline is tight.

This time, the Myefski expedition has taken me across the Atlantic and Baltic all the way to Riga. The Latvian capital desires a new addition to its international exposition center. The enhancements aim to provide a functional platform that attracts visitors all the while serving as an iconic structure for the city as a whole.

Entering Riga by water, the landscape of the city reflects across the Daugava River with the iconic buildings towering skyward similar to tall trees in the vast Latvian forests. This impression serves as design inspiration resulting in a new tower element for the exposition center that rises above Kipsala Island, the site of the expo center.

The tower offers visitors a chance to peek back at the historic district of Riga while traveling to the top of the vertical exhibition space. There is a new treetop on the Riga horizon, guess which one.

This coming month I will once again be working on a similar site, only this time with the iconic buildings of Chicago as the backdrop. The search on Goose Island goes on.

Stay up to date with my research by following the Kompas Fellows on Instagram @KompasFellowship.

Morten Kristensen

June 2017

Morten Kristensen

August 2016

Morten Kristensen

February 2017

Morten Kristensen

September 2016

Morten Kristensen

December 2016

The door handle is the handshake of the building - so rings the famous words of Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa, concerned with phenomenology; the built environment and its psychological impact on people. In his book, The Eyes of the Skin, Pallasmaa discusses the importance of building architecture that engage all senses, not solely the visual.

Similarly, the Danish urban planner, Jan Gehl, continuously studies why some urban spaces invite us to stay while others repel, accentuating it is not as much about what is beautiful versus what is ugly as whether the urban space fits our senses and body. I agree - in my mind, a good and interesting space activates your senses. It is about our way of movement and our sensory apparatus: to see, hear, speak and feel in that space.

Having a rustic and tactile feel, the bent metal framework of the proposed design on Goose Island gives people a landscape of opportunities. Apart from the touch of steel and the feel of the industrial past, the hollow metal tubes carry a hidden set of wires and hoses with outlets spread across the site. In some places, if you listen carefully, sounds and music can be heard from within, whereas in other, water vapors out as mist giving way for people and plants to come alive, the latter growing from an internal interrogation system within the tubes, producing fumes and tastes in the air as a byproduct.

The curved framework does not dictate a specific way of interaction, as the tubes have various applications. This leaves it up to the user to imagine and define its practice, be it bars used for ‘benching’ in physical exercise or used as an actual bench for sitting in relaxation. 

Stay up to date with my research by following the Kompas Fellows on Instagram @KompasFellowship.

Concurrently to this research project, grand visions are being laid out for The Chicago River and its adjacent banks. Historically used for predominantly industrial purposes like infrastructure and waste dump, this past year has seen an unprecedented focus on making the river an urban amenity - accessible, clean and open to the public. With the international conference, Urban Waterways Forum, and proactive city initiatives such as Our Great Rivers and The Chicago River Trail Action Plan, the theme has been widely addressed.

Just recently, the Chicago Plan Commission unanimously approved of the ‘North Branch Industrial Corridor Modernization Plan’. With that being said, some politicians of the river’s north branch argued that the plan compromises too much, favoring the developers and less so the occupants. As some of the other aldermen, Tom Tunney (44th ward), disagreed on the space put aside for recreation, stating that people are ‘simply out of places to play’ in the area: We often say, ‘It can happen. Open space can happen. Infrastructure improvements can happen.’ How do we make that ‘can’ a reality?

Through the study of and application of playful architecture on the north tip of Goose Island, the proposed design deals with and responds to this simple yet intricate question: How do we bring the great urban visions and the unplanned living reality of our cities closer together?

In the attempt to soften the distinction, the design leans on the industrial past and looks towards the politically contemplated future of this riverside location, gesturing towards an activation that bridges visions and reality, young and old, river and recreation, past and post.

Stay up to date with my research by following the Kompas Fellows on Instagram @KompasFellowship

Morten Kristensen

April 2017

Two projects have been ongoing ever since I started with Myefski Architects back in August. My own research-based project (to which this blog is dedicated) and a firm-based project, a design for The Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen. The latter has taken up most of my time throughout December. It’s interesting to note a few parallels can be drawn between the two projects and gained as I move ahead in my research.  

Though very different in scale, these projects share certain ideas. The site of the theatre is based in a maritime and old industrial setting on the harbor of Copenhagen, theoretically similar to the Goose Island site on the Chicago River.  The theatre is designed to activate an otherwise under-used prime location on the waterfront, not least through a green roof spanning the entire length of the building, ascending visitors from water to grand views of the area. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, a major source of inspiration in my research comes from the 606’s observatory that ascends people to an overview of the area and the solar path in an effort to activate the greenway.

Morten Kristensen

January 2017

My expedition in the realms of undeveloped urban sites have led me to and from Goose Island and up and down the Chicago riverfront. As immortalized in the city’s municipal device, the Chicago River systems have played a crucial role in the industrialization and growth of the city - but less so in recreational regards.

Here, Lake Michigan has always been way ahead, not least owing to the ‘Watchdog of the Lakefront’, Aaron Montgomery Ward, who so famously secured the shoreline as “Public Ground… forever open, clear and free of any buildings or obstructions whatever”.

Chicago won its public ‘lakewalk’ in court back in 1909, but had to wait another 100 years for its Riverwalk. Now, big plans are in the making for the river itself. Under the name of ‘Our Great Rivers’, the city envisions wetland parks, freshwater management, swimmable waters, etc.

Part of this extensive and ambitious project is focused on Goose Island along the north branch canal, adjacent to the undeveloped site I have been working on. “This stretch of water that forms the east side of Goose Island would be an ideal spot for novice and expert kayakers, fisherman and birdwatchers alike seeking a quiet, natural playground for recreating on the river.”

I could not agree more, which is partly the reason I found this site in the first place. However, the outlay for the future of the waterways surrounding Chicago aspires to be achieved somewhere between 2020 and 2040.

‘Make no little plans’ as Daniel Burnham so famously said rings true in many ways. However, the kid inside me cannot wait that long. There is a saying in Danish, ‘mange bække små gør en stor å’, meaning something like ‘large streams from little fountains flow’.

The project seeks to accompany the greater city scheme by ‘making little plans’ around and alongside it. On the north branch of Goose Island, I plan to create an interactive installation to attract interest and comfort passersby, a platform that sparks playful curiosity and promotes engagement of the city’s inhabitants towards activating the riverfront, and maybe, just maybe, helps to realize Our Great Rivers earlier than expected.

Stay up to date with my research by following the Kompas Fellows on Instagram @KompasFellowship.

Urban outdoor areas have countless health implications and significant sustainable potential. These spaces advocate playfulness and creativity through physical activity, relaxation, entertainment, social interaction, contact with greenery, a break in the everyday life, etc.

I always enjoy encountering playgrounds in the urban landscape. Playgrounds are a modest example of how architecture can promote such expression and activity. I believe there is much to gather from a child’s perception. And, why should playgrounds necessarily be kept for the lucky few kids? Imagine if such a space could engage people of all ages by attracting the attention of young as well as old.

The Kompas Fellowship is an incredible platform, a playground if you like, that gives me the opportunity to dwell on this topic. As I have set out to investigate urban outdoor spaces, I thought it fitting to embark on bike rides through the cityscape of Chicago - to feel the outdoor spaces physically. After all, the best way to define an engaging space from a bland space is most likely to interact with both.

By mapping out a varied spectrum of urban areas, a route of interest was established. Along these traced lines and colored dots lie many such questions: What makes a good outdoor space and what shapes a bad one? Why do some places in the city instinctively attract attention and interest without any clear reason? They may not seem esthetically pleasing nor architecturally planned but, nevertheless, they make us return again and again. These answers and more may be a bike ride away.

Stay up to date with my research by following the Kompas Fellows on Instagram @KompasFellowship.

I've been led through the cityscape of Chicago in my ongoing research on how to activate engaging urban spaces. Along the (green)way, I have been sketching, photographing, people-watching, writing and collecting data of my impressions of playgrounds, parks, plazas, cemeteries and recreational, industrial, underused areas, etc.

I have come across various spaces, but one especially stood out thus far. And that is exactly what makes it so interesting to me – this particular space seems very inviting to passersby.

On the very western end of Chicago’s elevated greenway -The 606- is a small hill. Along its periphery runs a narrow path that leads you to the top in an ascending spiral. As you ascend, you see a pile of dirt that has been laid out in the very center of the spiral forming 3 quarters of a circle. Three straight lines of concrete blocks cut through the pile with the words ‘equinox’, ‘summer’ and ‘winter solstice’ that meet in the very center. As you stand there, gazing out into the horizon wondering how this modern Stonehenge works, you soon realize you are not the only one. People that have also just come across this odd installation for the first time stand around with puzzled expressions on their faces.

And soon the silence between strangers is broken by the exchange of theories on how the darn thing works. It is obviously some sort of solar clock but whether it is the shadows cast on the ground or the sun’s position in the sky is somewhat of a mystery since no more information is provided. So strangers soon become acquainted, if not on a personal level then on how to understand and solve this common spatial mystery.

Through measurements and drawings of the site and with the help of other passersby, we finally realized that the installation ‘only’ works 4 times a year. And so I returned on September 22 for fall equinox to see the sun set in one of the cut-throughs of the dirt pile.

And even though it was a very cloudy night, again I was surprised to find that I was not the only one who had ended up there. People from all over the city had gathered on the little hill to see the so-called observatory in action. The dirt pile did not do us much good in the sense that the sunset we had all been waiting for was not even visible. However, it quite literally laid the groundwork for people to come together. And so a local astronomer who had brought a telescope showed the crowd of all ages (including a school class and local volunteers) Mars and other planets and stars whenever they could be spotted in between the clouds of the night.

If anything, I hope this little anecdote of a little dirt pile of seemingly little interest will help to better understand how urbanscapes can better urban life.

The search goes on.

Stay up to date with my research by following the Kompas Fellows on Instagram @KompasFellowship.

Chicago Recreation Areas

Morten Kristensen

July 2017

Morten Kristensen

November 2016

The maritime setting, the industrial history and the undisrupted views of the Chicago skyline are (similar to the theatre) all great advantages in activating the north branch of Goose Island. However, the same advantages also have their drawbacks in the form of land pollution, heavy traffic and the lack of infrastructural connection for pedestrians and cyclists. But great ideas spring from great complications and it will be up to me to combine these circumstances and find common ground. The search goes on.

Stay up to date with my research by following the Kompas Fellows on Instagram ​@KompasFellowship.

Morten's blog

In the (re)search of creating an atmosphere of playful interaction, developing a model of the Goose Island site seemed somehow apt, especially since the process itself demands physical interaction with materiality and embodiment of design ideas – both of which I find rather playful. Also, the design seems to be much better understood and explained visually than verbally. But you can judge for yourself - if the following metaphor seems rather cryptic, hopefully the model pictures below will prove more explanatory.

As stated in the previous blog post, the design of the site proposes a network of steel frame tubes following a swirling parallel grid, rising and falling in vertical waves, forming a maze-like framework. To put it another way, imagine a playground with kids skipping with two jump ropes. When in motion the ropes generate an optical sphere, but frozen in time they form two contrasting waves in different frequencies. Now, if each of these ropes are swirled around the same center, they form two sets of paths leading from the outer circle to the inner - and out again via the other path.

In the modeled design, each of the paths that the swirling steel tubes collectively creates measures a distance of 1609 meters, better known as 1 mile. The exact same distance is required in connecting the small strip of riverfront trail on the north tip of Goose Island to the Riverwalk to the south and The 606 to the north, 1 mile respectively.

By interacting with the designed landscape, making your way through the full length of these maze-like paths, you would end up covering 2 miles, a literal interpretation of the sheer scale and a physical reminder that the extension of the riverfront trail along the northern branch is not that far at all.

Maybe the name of the site should be ‘one609’, relating of course to the highly popular high line to the north besides being an ambigram - 609 remains the same flipped around the center – referring to the design’s mirrored framework as well as the site’s central location in the promising future of the Chicago River.

Stay up to date with my research by following the Kompas Fellows on Instagram @KompasFellowship.

Inspired by the many impressions I have collected from all over the city during these past months, I have come to realize that my encounters with new urbanscapes is unusually high for a city dweller. Though the city presents a diverse urban environment, people quickly find their favorite spots and are unlikely to explore unknown areas.

“What puzzles me is why these people who look up remote parts of the world to explore don’t stay at home and explore their own backyard. There’s as much to be seen in your own neighborhood or city as in Timbuctoo or Bangkok. It’s all in your point of view.” (The Chicago Daily News, 1930, John Drury)

From the perspective of a child, it must seem rather odd that so many vacant lots, empty buildings, and uninspiring spaces are left to be exactly that in the city. A kid would have no trouble imagining such places quite differently and he/she may very well seek out undeveloped places exactly because they are open for interpretation to the playful mind.

Such a place is found on the northern tip of an interesting triangle-shaped lot on Goose Island in Chicago. There, an otherwise empty lot reaches to be so much more. An old steel iron bridge crosses the river to meet a water taxi stop and modern office buildings alongside long gone rail road tracks.

Grand visions have been laid out for the urban development of Goose Island, but its future is uncertain. One thing is for sure though, it is going to take years before anything materializes.

The project has grown into an expedition (or maybe it was always one) that seeks to explore and activate seemingly unplanned urbanscapes. This is pursued through small scale architectural installations, partly because they are quicker achieved due to less hard labor hours and because such plans, simply, take less paperwork to get approved (expedite the expedition).

While we wait for the politicians to make up their minds, for the developers to invest their money, and for the architects to get their drawings approved, law-abiding citizens might as well take things into their own hands to activate and beautify the spaces around them while they wait to be developed. Kids don’t wait around, they actively reimagine their surroundings. Exploring the city in new ways would encourage people to identify with their environment differently, sensing new phenomena, insights and places and, in doing so, interact with those outside of their social circle.

Stay up to date with my research by following the Kompas Fellows on Instagram @KompasFellowship.