A HOMECOMINGThe basis for Think Tank 2021 comes to us from the theme of the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial, The Available City, curated by David Brown. The Available City began as an inventory of vacant, city-owned lots across Chicago-- currently numbering more than 13,000 sites concentrated on the city’s South and West sides. Over more than a decade of work, Brown developed his research into an ongoing urban design proposal that connects community residents, architects, and designers to work together to create spaces reflecting the needs of local neighborhoods.
The Available City represents a summation of the design process, which our Think Tank team recognized as an appropriate launching-point for the lenses of this year’s topic: disinvestment, disruption, and design. Disinvestment is the recognition of a problem; whether it is an inequality in the status quo, an active intent to harm or disenfranchise, or simply a broken context that requires a fix. Disinvestment represents the problem, whatever it may be. Disruption occurs when a new element is introduced to the context: in this case, the designer. The process of disrupting the status quo is an acknowledgment of a problem; someone has arrived on the scene and has determined that things cannot continue unchecked. In many cases, disruption can be as simple as a conversation that elevates an aggrieved party to the level of equal. Design is the physical manifestation of a solution; after disruption occurs, the new element (the designer) joins with the existing elements (the users) to create a remedy (the design). The design is an attempt to repair, restore, or recreate something that was once disinvested in by others.
In Legat Architects’ 2021 Vision and Values update, we wrote collectively that with design, one of our goals is to empower people by using our research-driven process to create equity through listening. We are not the starchitect who comes down from on high to declare a singular vision as the catch-all solution; we are the messengers who have the privilege to visit under-served communities and listen, and then through design, to elevate. Our voice does not carry proclamations written in stone; rather, we are the conduit that translates need into action. This is who we are, and this is why we’ve chosen to highlight four practice areas to explore through these lenses.
The four lenses we’ve chosen to focus on should not be seen as design restrictors, but as generators:
Institutional & Instructional Design
September 10, 2021 | 2:00 - 5:00 PM CST
Housing Stock & Design Alternatives
October 1, 2021 | 2:00 - 5:00 PM CST
Transportation & Municipal Design
October 22 , 2021 | 2:00 - 5:00 PM CST
Quad Cities, Iowa
Health & Wellness Design
November 12 , 2021 | 2:00 - 5:00 PM CST
Oak Brook, Illinois
With Think Tank 2021, our goal is to invite experts in their fields who understand the current market and can highlight our blind spots as designers. We seek to understand where our users feel their needs have been unmet, and what solutions we can provide to them to mend these overlooked gaps. Whether it’s in the growing field of wellness-based design or in an established segment like playful and early childhood learning, we want to understand where the people who live and work in our buildings feel left behind.
What is the purpose of reinvestment? Our first essay perhaps gets closest to an answer. Using Chicago’s Madison Street on the city’s West Side as an example, we see systemic disinvestment in the Austin and North Lawndale neighborhoods. The original residents, many of them lower-income African Americans who were left behind during the “white flight” of the 1960s and 70s, have mostly died off, leaving their children and grandchildren to tend to the ruins of these once-thriving businesses and petition the city to re-invest in their properties. While the original residents may be mostly gone, their descendants grew up believing that building back better was not only possible, but achievable.
For these people, reinvestment is a form of homecoming-- not a physical return to a specific place, but a promise made by investors to communities that they matter, and that they are part of a legacy that will continue after they’re gone. To the disinvested, reinvestment is bound to feel like a homecoming of sorts-- with all the bittersweet realities that entails. But as long as we are collectively willing to do the work, a homecoming will always be waiting for our users at the end of the journey.