Fall 2018 – 497-323: Prototyping Cultural Infrastructure for the Future of Our River

Meeting Day/Time:
Tuesdays from 8:35 to 11:15 am
Skylar Moran (Undergraduate Education – Architecture) (smoran@iit.edu) and Dana Taylor (Undergraduate Education – Architecture/International)
Appropriate Majors
Social Innovation

Our relationship to the Chicago River is in cultural crisis. We rely on it for our sanitary system. It is the lifeline for much of our industry. It defines us geographically. It presents environmental threats to our ecology. We wish to enjoy it for recreation. Not all of these cultures are compatible, sustainable or even desirable. Barriers, both physical and political, limit human interaction with the river, restricting some cultural uses unevenly across the city. Other forms of river culture found around the world have yet to emerge in Chicago. Each of these identifiable cultures are dependent on corresponding infrastructure.

Chicago’s progress has been inseparable from its River since before its incorporation. Many of the River’s greatest stories are recorded in the large-scale, costly infrastructural investments we have made to support municipal- and corporate-scale cultures: When there arrived a demand for shipping access, we dug canals to new routes and straightened the bends. When the need arose to isolate our water supply from our sanitation system, we built a lock and redirected the River’s flow. As the city’s growth patterns shifted, engineers conceived new bridge designs to support half a dozen means of transportation, maybe more.

Looking forward, we seek new ways of thinking about the Chicago River and who it will serve: Emergent and forthcoming cultures point to a democratization of the River, suggesting smaller-scale infrastructural solutions in response. We continue to debate how to respond to the threats of invasive species entering the region from the river, and the long-term impact our sanitation system has on the Great Lakes. At the same time, we experiment with the best ways to bring citizens closer to the river as a civic space and tourist attraction.

The goals of this IPRO project are to evaluate the conditions of existing cultures; to identify barriers to those which are emergent or forthcoming; to propose new infrastructure addressing those barriers, prototype, and test on-site; to record all processes and results, and present documentation. The success of this course will be measured by the breadth of initial investigations, the depth of proposed interventions and tests, and the delivery of the body of work. This course builds on a body of work accumulated during previous semesters; future semesters may continue the work achieved here, or operate parallel to it. Multiple semesters’ works may be collected as a larger knowledge base.

“Maintain in conditions suitable for growth” — throughout this IPRO project, the team will employ this definition of culture to evaluate suitability. To begin, the team will investigate the contemporary and historical cultural conditions of the Chicago River, and the associated interventions which brought about its current conditions. Critical reading, site visits, and interviews with community members will be primary tools. The team will then identify one or more specific stakeholders and propose potential cultural interventions based on both shifts in local needs and desires, and traditional global patterns of use. Some research of past precedents and processes may be required. The team will develop small scale prototypes and test for effectiveness through additional site visits and interviews. To conclude, the team will present and publish its findings and recommendations.

All members of the IPRO team will have the opportunity to:

  • learn strategies for collecting, analyzing, and critiquing cultural data;
  • visit relevant sites, document conditions, and conduct interviews;
  • present findings both as individuals and in collaboration;
  • program a work schedule with regular progress measurements;
  • make recommendations based on findings and feedback;
  • propose new ways to deploy findings for future use; and
  • publish records of processes and results.
Course Downloads:

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