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Ford Calumet Environmental Center
Chicago, Illinois

A peculiar landscape dominates the Calumet area on the far south side of Chicago. It is both an industrial (and often post-industrial) zone, and a major ecosystem that sustains many of North America’s migratory bird species. The success of regenerating post-industrial landscapes such as Calumet hinges on our ability to design complex environments made up of natural and cultural ecosystems. UrbanLab’s proposal is to remediate a small piece of Calumet’s landscape by setting into motion a series of social/cultural and ecological loops. The project inserts itself into the ecological water loop of the site as a machine for cleaning water.

Water on the site, and from adjacent streets and parking lots, is drawn through a series of water collection bio-swales to the northeast corner of the building where it is pumped via aeroturbine to the roof to be cleaned further in undulating wetland troughs. On the interior of the Environmental Center the underside of the troughs create and differentiate programmatic space including an orientation space, a café, classrooms, exhibit space, an auditorium, and a laboratory. Roof-top programs include urban farming plots, learning gardens, and a bio-filtered swim hole. A series of ramps, stairs, and pathways smoothly connect interior and exterior spaces of the building. Water slowly moves through the green roof wetland troughs, eventually dripping through glass tubes in the café, and into a clean water marsh at the southwest corner of the new building.