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Alfresco South Chicago


Chicago, IL, United States

June 2022


Katherine Darnstadt (Founding Principal)


Wight & Company (Architect of Record), Design Trust Chicago (Design Fellow + Community Engagement), CDOT + DPD (Project Facilitation), Berglund Construction (General Contractor), Romero Steel LLC (Steel Fabrication Mart Stalls


South Chicago Parents + Friends | Tom Schell, Executive Director


Sarah Joyce


Create an inviting, walkable district encouraging residents to gather + stroll while reflecting local voices through art. Alfresco South Chicago features 4 zones with unique site-specific activations of the Art Stacks, Mart Stalls, Seating, + Ground Graphics. Through a series of public workshops residents shared insights on potential activation locations, desired programming, corridor priorities, as well as short-term + long-term visions for the corridor. The workshops framed the site concerns which included, security, confirm active / vacant businesses, as well as identification of the extents of previous activation. Collaboration with artists provided feedback on fabrication considerations as well as art / programming curation + instillation needs. Responsibilities for future collaboration between design + artists teams were identified. Artist collaboration identified corridor aspirations, like satellite gallerias, a community gallery, + teaching opportunities. The project is broken into the following 4 components: Art Stacks, Mart Stalls, Seating, + Ground Graphics. Art Stacks + Mart Stalls were custom welded from stock tube steel + coated with a sustainable powder coated finish. Seating Components incorporated some of the existing seating infrastructure with upgraded design + finishes. Ground Graphics utilized industry standard street paint by local professionals. Larger scale tactical interventions in front of vacant lots are priorities for ground graphics and artist takeover of lot fencing.


To evoke the rich history of the neighborhood through art + contribute to the growth of local businesses, our primary focus was to attract patrons + encourage shop owners to take pride in their storefronts. The concept of the corridor design captures the essence of the neighborhood’s history at every level. The South Chicago neighborhood, once characterized by its poor environmental + economic conditions due to the steel industry, has now witnessed a reinvestment in public space. Referencing the murals along the corridor, we aimed to illuminate + celebrate the resonating heritage of the area. Considering the nearby Invest SW site + SSA activation site, this block proves to be the perfect location for this transformative intervention. By collaborating with South Chicago Parents + Friends, we were able to develop a diverse range of options + create new opportunities within the corridor. Our proposed designs range from tall vertical frames that provide artists with unique creative opportunities to more substantial infrastructure that can accommodate artisan marts, pop-ups, + youth programming along the sidewalks. The geometries for the project have been influenced by the historic structures + manhole covers produced by the steel industry that once thrived / polluted this neighborhood. The colors + patterns we incorporated reflect the vibrant ethnic street art that adorns the side walls of vacant lots. Through this project, we wanted to enhance the neighborhood’s identity, promote economic growth, + create a welcoming + visually captivating environment for all who visit + reside here.


Titled “Who Tells Your Story,” this project brings commissioned art, market stalls, streetscape elements, planters, + performance spaces to Commercial Ave in South Chicago. It features tall vertical frames referencing smokestacks + market stalls referencing steel truss bridges. Neighborhood aspirations that have been achieved through this project include the following highlights. The project has become “Newsworthy Design” featured by media + promoted in speaking engagements. The project has instilled a new sense of History / Pride / Culture along the corridor. The design created artistic interpretations linking the industrial past toward a commercial future. Local vendors have used the kiosks to start new connections to nature + business. Local artists were promoted + featured in the project + process. Youth played a key role + were instrumental in the development of the design. As a result of this project more corridor enhancement has been achieved through inviting business owners to participate by painting store fronts / awnings to integrate a selected color scheme. Collaboration potentials have been realized utilizing the existing structures as opportunities for event performance + workshop facilitation. Future aspirations include collaborating with artists to take over vacant lots or existing store fronts as teaching opportunities for paint application techniques. The end goal of this project is to is to encourage potential sites for new development to the north + south of this corridor that will focus around this newly implemented artistic center.

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