Great design meets innovative problem-solving - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Great design meets innovative problem-solving

John Ronan Architects

I am lucky to have my office in the heart of a world-class city. I recently took advantage of a gorgeous October day and made the quick four-block walk to the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) at the historic Santa Fe building on South Michigan Avenue. The stunning lobby is a testament to Chicago’s rich architectural tradition and CAF builds upon this, featuring exhibits right in the lobby or atrium gallery. The idea of repurposing existing structures was the central theme of the current exhibit, Design on the Edge: Chicago Architects Reimagine Neighborhoods. Chicago’s leading creative architects tackled challenges facing local communities, designing cutting-edge concepts for seven neighborhoods that would result in a more connected, vibrant, and livable city.

The exhibition features visionary plans devised by Darryl Crosby, Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen, Jeanne Gang, Doug Garofalo with Xavier Vendrell, Patricia Natke, John Ronan, and Ross Wimer. Their provocative concepts would change the face of neighborhoods in every corner of the city. I was especially drawn to five of the seven which dealt with neighborhoods where MPC has worked on recent community building partnerships: Pilsen, the CTA Red Line, Bronzeville, Midway International Airport, and the United Center. It was pretty exciting to glimpse the future through the eyes of these talented designers.

One particular project caught my eye because of MPC’s current work in Bronzeville, the neighborhood south of the Loop and north of Hyde Park, an area with tremendous assets and potential. With the CTA Green Line as a backbone, it has the infrastructure necessary for successful transit-oriented development but lacks the clustering of economic activity near stations. MPC is assisting the Bronzeville Alliance, a group of area residents and organizations committed to increasing investor opportunities and resident benefits within the Bronzeville neighborhood. In August a group of MPC expert volunteers helped prioritize 47th Street as the node and corridor that is most primed for reinvention and reinvestment.

CAF’s exhibit featured Darryl Crosby’s design for Bronzeville, an outside-the-box (literally!) vision of five-spoked walkways extending from five refurbished Green Line stations. These stations would better align with major crossroads and the diagonal walkways would connect commuters with places to work, eat, and visit. I was energized by considering how Darryl’s design concepts could enhance MPC’s recommendations, which encompass both proven and new approaches, screened by the people who live and work in Bronzeville. And John Ronan’s design for elevated bike and pedestrian paths stacked on top of El tracks blew me away. Why not? A dense city lacking adequate green space for recreation and reflection has to get creative.

Please take time from your busy days to enjoy this world-class city and region. Design on the Edge is open at the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s 224 S. Michigan Ave. location seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. If you find other gems, please send them my way!

To learn how ComEd, Illinois American Water, and People’s Gas are taking care of the infrastructure that powers our lives, join MPC for our third Infrastructure Roundtable Series, All Systems Go: Engineering Sustainable Utility Solutions, Thursday, Nov. 17, noon to 1:30 p.m. Register today!


  1. 1. Ross Capaccio on December 7, 2011

    My uncle, John Schmidt, Santa Fe CEO at the time, worked with Chicago Mayor Jane Burne to get landmark status for the building. The lobby was then remodeled including the marble tile floor D. Burnham never installed because the project budget was depleted.

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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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