1. Why did you decide to do the Near West Side Competition?
Ryan: I had a great deal of respect for the Living Building Challenge and had been attending the Chicago Living Building Collaborative meetings for about a year. ILFI had recently won the 2012 Buckminster Fuller Challenge. I’ve read a lot of Bucky’s books, and loved John Todd’s winning 2008 Buckminster Fuller Challenge entry. When the competition was announced, there was no question in my mind that I would participate, and thankfully Parker, Margaret and Steven were also interested.
Parker: Ryan asked me to participate, we were looking for a competition for a while.
Margaret: Parker invited me to join the team, and I was ecstatic because I am a huge proponent of LBC.
Steven: Ryan asked me to contribute. I know local transportation issues like the back of my hand and I write and research for a living.
2. Which charrette hosted by the Collaborative was your favorite?
Ryan: The Biomimicry charrette was my favorite. There are very few, if any man-made things that aren’t done better by nature, and in the spirit of designing things as efficiently and beautifully as possible, not applying the lessons that living organisms have to teach us is a mistake.
Steven: I loved the charrette hosted at the Shedd Aquarium because their chief water scientist had so much knowledge to impart about local and regional water laws. Our winning entry focused on water issues. We also go to see sharks and other behind the scenes work.
3. How did each charrette inform your design?
Ryan: The Passive House, Biomimicry, and Shedd Aquarium/Water charettes were all opportunities to learn, discuss and reinforce what were already big interests.
Steven: I didn’t contribute as much to the design as Parker and Ryan, but each charrette taught me so many new concepts and ways of building and forming a solution to the four issues on which we focused that I’m sure it subtly changed how I wrote our program.
4. Explain your winning design and the inspiration behind it.
Margaret: Embedding the building and site into the community, and generating positive momentum for economic development was a big motivation for many aspects of the program. The fact that the site is in a food desert provided great incentive to emphasize the food forest and the use of permaculture, and the indoor market, outdoor farmer’s market and cafe were obvious extensions. The legacy of meat packing can be seen in the zoning map of the area, and the large number of commercial food distribution companies and associated waste supported the idea of having an on-site digester. Including residential areas as a laboratory for sustainable living and a showroom associated with the C4PAT offices supported the concept of community education and engagement.
Parker: Architecturally we responded with simple buildings that could be built with relative conventional construction, oriented to the sun. The proposal seeks to continue an urban edge in an area that has significant parking areas and few buildings, this created the massing for the buildings, along with maintaining good solar access on the site. Once those bigger site decisions where made we could really dig into the how the center would work, what was need and how to set up systems that would allow for near net-zero water and energy, all contained on the site.
Ryan: We envisioned transforming the oversized block currently paved for automobile parking into a pedestrian scaled complex of medium sized buildings, divided internally by pedestrian streets, surrounded by safe, complete streets, focused around a large productive food forest as a means to facilitate community and economic restoration. Complementary activities such as farming, bicycling, education, housing, retail, water filtration and energy production have been brought together to form a semi-closed loop of goods, services, products and usable wastes. A focus on passive solar design, natural materials, and simulated wetland water filtration would allow the buildings operate almost independently from conventional gas, electric and water infrastructure. Surpluses of energy, food, knowledge, clean water and topsoil would be exported to positively influence the site’s surroundings, fulfilling the mission of the Living Building Challenge.
Steven: The Center for Permaculture and Appropriate Technology focuses on four issues that have been identified by research groups and government agencies as the most pressing for our region. These issues are also prevalent in the specific competition location, including water runoff because of all the parking lots and low access to fresh and nutritious food in the neighborhood. The ideals of the Center, listed in the name, are linked to our personal hobbies and beliefs of building food forests close to home and using low-cost, low-intensity mechanics to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
5. Have you attended the Living Future unConference before?
No, but we would like to present our project at the unConference!
6. What were your impressions of the collaborative and their community impact?
Margaret: I appreciate the emphasis on education and outreach of Living Buildings. It is exciting to visit places that embody the potential of future development that is in harmony with nature, and addresses issues of resource consumption and quality of life.
Parker: I feel that there is real opportunity to start an environment in which everyone has an opportunity to envision new Chicago development in an more holistic matter.
Ryan: Not only does it regularly bring together locals committed to solving the problem of moving our built environment most quickly toward a sustainable one, it has produced this competition which has given people in the United Center Park neighborhood great suggestions on how to re-imagine their neighborhood.
Steven: I’d like to see the LBC community’s work and aims spread to a larger audience to change minds about how food can be obtained, or how water can be absorbed on-site instead of piped to a tunnel.