Digital Burnham


Digital Burnham video 02:01

Downtown Chicago Virtual Office & Business Center

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Any technology creates a new environment, a new set of relationships among people. Marshall McLuhan 1965

Two conditions exist in Chicago, one visible, the other invisible. The visible structure of Chicago is based on a series of urban layers which evolved during the mechanical age and was given a developmental framework based on the Burnham Plan. The other condition, which is profoundly present yet invisible in the urban structure, is the series of connections and effects generated by globalization and the context of digital media and communication. This proposal explores the tectonic and environmental potential of these new relationships.

The continuing evolution of information technology and globalization will not replace the need for cities, but will change the physical and social patterns that exist within them. As the individual office becomes virtual and most work occurs at home, the function of the central city will be to provide more opportunities for interaction and fewer private workplaces. There will be a greater need for global meeting places for all scales of interaction. This proposal for central Chicago suggests a layered intervention, which allows existing and new conditions to merge, producing a transformative shift to a new digital age.

At the heart of this proposal is an expansive new park network. Sited along the Congress Avenue corridor, the park recalls Daniel Burnham’s original concept of a grand boulevard extending from Grant Park and terminating at a new City Hall and large civic plaza. The park becomes a dominant framework of a grand scale public amenity that sustainably merges new virtual and physical urban conditions. Peripheral islands and harbors extend outward to the lake from Queen’s Landing and parkland bridges westward to the city center over Lakeshore Drive and along Congress Avenue.

Sunken within the lakebed, and surrounded by parkland in order to not be visible from the city, are the runways and terminals for an international airport. In contrast to current proposals of a third Chicago airport being located in Peotone or Kankakee, approximately 45 miles away from the city, an airport located close to the heart of the city is a sustainable proposition that offsets the negative effects of suburban sprawl, traffic congestion and the massive infrastructure demands of a remote proposal. The urban airport encourages densification of the city’s core in a socially and environmentally conscious manner. Chicago has historically been a commercial marketplace, this proposal suggests a new marketplace, a global marketplace of ideas.

By lowering Congress Avenue below ground and creating a multimodal transportation network side by side with a new underground airport concourse, there is the opportunity to integrate a variety of above ground elements that serve the general public and create a new typology of globally interactive physical spaces. A series of three tower types are integrated along the park network: community towers, park towers and energy towers. The community towers would be configured to reflect the new workplace and social networks. Instead of ground level public lobbies with private office plates above the towers are stacked public ground planes creating a series of public forums a vertical village of enclosed meeting spaces and outdoor terraces. The park towers are vertical open space extensions of the current area around Grant Park providing new multi-level outdoor recreation and green spaces. The energy towers intermix occupiable floor plates with wind turbines and solar cells that take advantage of the unobstructed nature of the lake environment and contribute to energy production.

Located at the western end of the park is a media plaza and a new city hall. The plaza and the city hall functions below it would be a combination of landscape and e-scape a superscale urban event. Its shape is an electronic version of Richard Serras Tilted Arc, whose removal from New Yorks Federal Plaza in 1989 precipitated a debate about the meaning of art and public space. Two monumental video screens would enclose the plaza space, stimulating a participatory discourse about democracy and the public environment.

Digital Burnham video 02:01

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