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City of the Future
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Chicago Worldchanging local blogger, Patrick Rollens, shares a post on what Chicago might look like a century from now.

What would Chicago look like at the dawn of the 22nd century? What familiar fixtures of modern-day urbanism would remain, and what would be replaced with new, worldchanging concepts?

That was the question at The City of the Future: A Design and Engineering Challenge, a national architecture competition sponsored by the History Channel. Intended to coincide with the Engineering an Empire television series, the competition was held on November 17 and pitted eight top architecture teams from across Chicago in a contest to find the most revolutionary -- and applicable -- treatment for Chicago's urban environment a hundred years in the future.

The format of the competition was unique: teams were given one week to brainstorm ideas for a 22nd-century Chicago, then they were given four hours last Friday to assemble scale models of their creations in the lobby of the Chicago Architecture Foundation on Michigan Avenue.

The entries -- and the collective creativity they represented -- were nothing short of inspiring. Strawn Sierralta, a design firm that was a finalist in the World Trade Center Memorial competition, postulated the creation of floating, lighter-than-air hydrogen collection farms (looking for all the world like giant UFOs) tethered to anchors in Lake Michigan. According to Lev Zvenyach, the team's mentor and the brain behind the hydrogen disks, the floating farms will extract hydrogen from the air, convert it to electricity and transmit the harvest to mainland Chicago for consumption. Zvenyach's hydrogen farm is no flight of fancy; when I spoke with him at the competition, he said the concept is entirely achievable with today's technology. Moreover, he intended to file for a patent for the hydrogen farm within a week of the competition.

In contrast, Dirk Denison Architects' design relied upon a not-yet-invented substance the team called "grafted crystalline mesh." As they described it to me, the theoretical material would serve as both an infrastructure material and a communications conduit; the mesh would be strung around the city like a spider's web, and buildings would be built into this artificial framework. In addition to physical support, the crystalline mesh would transport data much like present-day fiber optics.

The winning entry, however, was absolutely deserving of the top honor. UrbanLab, headed up by, Martin Felsen and Sarah Dunn, envisioned a future where water is the most valuable natural resource. In UrbanLab's world, Chicago will become a key exporter of water to regions around the country, and as such the city's entire economy must shift toward the retention and distribution of water. Entitled "Growing Water," the design team presented a Chicago of the future where all east-west boulevards have been returned to greenspace. Vast swathes of native grasses and hardy trees will replace familiar routes like Grand Avenue and Diversey Parkway. A clean, efficient, elevated monorail system will eliminate the need for street-level travel.

These strips of grass and shrubbery, then, would serve to capture precipitation, biologically filter it and funnel the clean water into the Chicago River, which would then replenish Lake Michigan. UrbanLab's concept is designed to allow for 100% of Chicago's water to be recaptured for use or export. Of course, the design requires the flow of the Chicago River to be returned to it's original pre-20th-century route flowing into the lake.

The winning entry netted UrbanLab $10,000, and the team will go on to a national competition to be judged by Daniel Libeskind, architect of the World Trade Center redevelopment site.

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Sponsored by Infiniti? Talk about a design constraint.

Posted by: jw on 2 Dec 06



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