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Urban design is community led at the Chicago Architecture Biennial

This year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial, The Available City, encourages active community participation in city design by repurposing vacant lots across the city.

Urban design is community led at the Chicago Architecture Biennial

Central Park Theater by Manuel Herz, organised in partnership with Central Park Theater Restoration Committee.

The term “vacant lots” often carries negative connotations, symbolising abandoned or dangerous locations, and consequently decay. The Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) is flipping the script on this impression by using vacant lots to stimulate creativity and renew urban areas.

Chicago has struggled with an increase in vacant land since the 1970s, an issue generally attributed to economic and population decline.

Woodlawn Canopies: Stories and Futures by Norman Teague Design Studios in coordination with Project H.O.O.D.

This year’s CAB, The Available City, is spread across eight neighbourhoods in Chicago, harnessing the potential of the city’s ten thousand-plus city-owned vacant lots that are mainly in the South and West neighbourhoods and are predominantly inhabited by brown and black communities.

By reinvigorating vacant lots, cities have the opportunity to encourage a better quality of life for their residents, according to research by Gunwoo Kim. This potential is being utilised by CAB, where the urban design is purposefully aimed at responding to the needs of communities and neighbourhoods.

The Center Won’t Hold by The Open Workshop in partnership with the Overton Incubator and Creative Grounds. Photography by Darius Jasper.

Site specific structures, some temporary and some permanent, have been constructed on multiple vacant lots. The structures have been realised through collaborative design processes between architects, artists and community organisations from over 80 countries.

Artistic director of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, David Brown, developed a long-term project exploring the potential of vacant lots in America, of which the Biennial is the latest and largest iteration.

Block Party by Studio Barnes, in collaboration with Shawhin Roudbari and MAS Context.

“Exploring the potential of The Available City has been a central focus for me for over a decade, and it is a fantastic opportunity to explore its ideas with global and local architects, designers, thinkers, and community leaders within the Biennial’s platform,” says Brown.

“Our work is really just beginning – the Biennial is an open conversation on possibility, and I am excited to see what ideas, collaborations, and partnerships emerge from this forum.”

Cover the Grid by Outpost Office, in coordination with Westside Association for Community Action.

The program is raising important questions for the international architecture community around who participates in the design of a city, who society excludes from this participation and why this should become more inclusive.

Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot said they were “thrilled” to be able to bring a conversation about the potential for vacant spaces to a global platform.

The Chicago Architecture Biennial is currently running until October 31.

Chicago Architecture Biennial

Photography by Nathan Keay, unless otherwise stated.

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