DOWNTOWN — Imagine a six-apartment with a “vertical greenhouse” at its core to connect neighbors and let in sun in the winter. Or a three-apartment that devotes its yards to native plants and animals.
Those ideas and others were on display Tuesday night at the Chicago Architecture Center, 111 E. Wacker Drive, where the city asked architects to come up with affordable housing ideas as part of the Come Home contest.
The competition was created to create ideas to fill “missing medium-density” housing in Auburn Gresham, Bronzeville, East Garfield Park, Englewood, Humboldt Park and Woodlawn, according to a news release from the Chicago Architecture Center. The designers’ ideas were meant to fit the needs of Chicago residents — but also to be modern, walkable, and address blight from vacant lots.
Ultimately, officials also hope the competition — and the homes built from it — can create a path to home ownership for more Chicagoans.
Designers were asked to propose ideas for redesigned two- and three-unit apartments, townhouses and six-unit apartments, according to the Chicago Architecture Center. The city will use some of the ideas to build 30-100 affordable housing units on vacant lots.
Maurice Cox, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, said the project is coming at the right time, as more investment on the south and west sides is coming.
“The city still has thousands of vacant lots,” Cox said. “We believe that with initiatives like Come Home, we finally found a way to unleash their potential. We know the demand to grow the neighborhood is there.
“I’m so excited because to have this level of quality and innovation … is a game changer.”
The designs of 42 architects and their groups were shown at Tuesday’s event and will remain on display. Anyone can see the proposals at the exhibition through March 26 at the Chicago Architecture Center. Chicagoans can provide feedback on the designs online.
The city is expected to select the winning designs for the affordable housing units by the end of March.
Architects at Tuesday’s event said they sought flexible approaches to expand housing, make the most of available space, include the community in their designs and ensure they will create a positive long-term impact.
Jamie Torres Carmona, founder and principal designer of the Canopy firm, said his Six Plus six-apartment proposal calls for creating a “vertical greenhouse” in a typical Chicago six-apartment to foster a sense of community among residents.
“The legacy that Chicago has is that it’s a very forward-thinking city,” said Carmona, who grew up on the West Side. “It’s not just about having a beautiful building. A project like this can create a ripple effect that helps everyone.”
Carmona’s six-apartment design will have a shared veranda and a rooftop garden. The ground floor could be used for social gatherings, coworking or as a “maker space,” and the exterior will feature wood slats “to adapt to Chicago’s dramatic seasonality,” according to his presentation.
The plan will also feature a “spatial social staircase” connecting the units to an atrium – the greenhouse – that will be filled with sunlight.
Tatiana Bilbao brought her six-face design, Home Game, from Mexico City. She said she tried to subvert the traditional layout of six-apartments by designing the rooms so that they are all the same, so that residents can use them for a variety of reasons.
“For us, it’s important to try to challenge architecture, which has a very organic thing, which is life,” Bilbao said. “Life is a constantly changing process.”
Bilbao’s proposal shows a building with large windows, open spaces and plants on the roof.
The aim of the competition is to get new residents into the districts – but also to keep those who live there and attract former residents.
The competition and its focus on building up to 100 affordable housing units is part of the Invest South/West Initiative, which Mayor Lori Lightfoot has championed. Although she lost her re-election bid, this initiative will continue, Cox said.
“There are billions of dollars in the pipeline for this,” Cox said. “It’s hard to imagine it being undone. I think the amount of community ownership and expectation is intense.”
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