Archeworks' new codirectors see Chicago as a model for future cities.
A sleek head-mounted pointer enables cerebral palsy patients to use a computer keyboard or a motorized wheelchair. A prosthetic leg becomes a lovable animated character named Mobi in a video game that teaches kids about disabilities. Such unusual projects are the norm for Archeworks, the Chicago alternative design school that holds its annual benefit at the Notebaert Nature Museum Friday 9.
Archeworks was founded in 1993 by two pillars of the Chicago design community: Stanley Tigerman, 77, a principal of Tigerman McCurry Architects (whose projects include the new Pacific Garden Mission at 1458 S Canal Street) and Eva Maddox, 64, a principal of Perkins & Will | Eva Maddox Branded Environments. The one-year graduate program occupied the basement of a South Loop loft building until 1997, when it moved to its current River North home (designed by Tigerman) at 625 N Kingsbury Street.
From the outset, Maddox and Tigerman intended Archeworks to serve people who rarely get access to designers’ services. Classes—which are capped at 24 students—have developed dozens of prototype solutions to problems in health care, education and Chicago communities.
Last January, Maddox and Tigerman announced that a new pair of codirectors would take over in the fall: Sarah Dunn, 40, and Martin Felsen, 39, partners in the Bridgeport-based architectural firm UrbanLab, which they founded in 2000. (Dunn, an assistant professor at UIC, and Felsen, an associate studio professor at IIT, both received their master’s degrees from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.) Maddox and Tigerman invited the husband-and-wife team to codirect after Dunn and Felsen facilitated an Archeworks project that envisioned how the Museum of Science and Industry could become a “zero-waste” facility by 2012.
Felsen says he and Dunn will not change Archeworks’ mission of social responsibility, but they are shifting the institution’s focus to “the future of cities,” which is their own firm’s expertise. (To see some of their research, visit chil.us or sprawlcity.us.) In 2007, UrbanLab won the History Channel’s national “City of the Future” design competition with a model of 22nd-century Chicago that suggested the city could treat and recycle all of its wastewater without using chemicals. Not surprisingly, an Archeworks water project tops the new codirectors’ agenda.
“A lot of people are saying that in 20 or 30 years, water will be the next oil, the next resource that everyone is fighting over,” explains Felsen. “Chicago is adjacent to 20 percent of the whole Earth’s freshwater supply.” But the city is wasting Lake Michigan, he adds, letting its water become polluted and sending it down the Mississippi River instead of replenishing it. Archeworks students will collaborate with the mayor’s office, Chicago’s departments of Environment and Transportation, the Field Museum, the Illinois Humanities Council, IIT and other institutions to study how Chicago could use its invaluable resource more efficiently.
Archeworks attracts not only architects and designers, but individuals with backgrounds in the liberal arts, business and other fields. With annual tuition for the program a not-insignificant $6,200, one wonders what students will do with their nonaccredited degrees. “Archeworks isn’t trying to make designers,” Felsen says. Instead, the program empowers “people who want to make some kind of difference in Chicago and the world” to make careers out of improving their environment. And Archeworks is perfectly situated to study the impact of our unsustainable levels of energy and resource consumption, Felsen concludes. Chicago’s active downtown core and close-knit, walkable neighborhoods make the city an ideal laboratory for “how we will live when we can no longer live the way we do now.”
For more information about Archeworks, call 312-867-7254 or visit archeworks.org.