Architecture competition aims to revitalize South Chicago

people walking down the street in Chicago

Students tour South Chicago as part of a competition to envision how a neighborhood can revitalize itself. (Photo: Andrew Mateja)

Nearly 60 students from the School of Architecture took part in a competition to help revitalize the South Chicago neighborhood by planning recreational and open spaces on land under the Chicago Skyway.

The South Chicago Underline Project is a competition designed to tap into ideas generated by 56 graduate and undergraduate architecture students.

The winning team included graduate students Kaitlyn Woodward and Nick Mattia and undergraduate student Andrew Lang. Their winning proposal, DOT, creates a unique, recognizable public space that attracts and benefits multiple generations through the use of art, a garden-market, and multifunctional as well as play spaces. The pedestrian-friendly area aims to beautify and improve the current location.

The UIC School of Architecture, in conjunction with the UIC Great Cities Institute and the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce, were partners in the project.

The effort is part of a larger revitalization initiative that began when the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce approached the Great Cities Institute for assistance in improving the area, said Meghan Funk, competition coordinator.

The Underline Project is designed to envision how a neighborhood can revitalize itself by reclaiming industrial and urban infrastructure. Students came up with proposals to transform the unused site along Commercial Avenue under the Skyway into a visible and active public space. The space is the southern anchor of the South Chicago Commercial District, which is the focus of the revitalization plan.

As part of the competition, the students, who were divided into 13 teams, paid a visit to the site and the neighborhood. There, representatives of the Great Cities Institute and the chamber guided them around the neighborhood and gave them feedback.

The competition had three main objectives, said Funk, who is also an adjunct assistant professor in the School of Architecture: “to provide the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce with visions and designs with which to begin implementing aspects of their Commercial Avenue Revitalization Plan; to provide School of Architecture students with the experience of projecting architectural agendas onto real projects with tangible clients; and to promote collaboration and greater community between the years of architecture students.”

She said the project offered students an interesting perspective in which to test creative approaches to utilize public space, but also tries to hone a “real-world” perspective to plans.

“My hope is that students learn to embrace the culture-building potential of architecture, and to begin to see that architectural design at the urban scale needs to be balanced between an optimistic vision of potential futures and a practical approach to current factors,” Funk said.

The projects are display through March 15 at the U.S. Bank, South Chicago branch, 9200 S. Commercial Ave.

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