Under the El

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Program: Vision for Property under the Elevated Rail
Status: Unbuilt
Selected Recognition: Visionary Chicago Architecture, Chicago Architecture Foundation, 2005. Exhibition.

Hortus in Urbi: Garden (Reclaimed) in the City. Under the El is a radical reconceptualization of the urban core of Chicago as part of the Visionary Chicago Architecture publication and exhibit organized by Stanley Tigerman.

In 1909, Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett published the landmark Plan of Chicago. The most important systems were transportation and parks. Chicagos motto is Urbs in Horto, City in a Garden. In 2002, Chicago ranked 11th out of the 12 high density American city with 8.1% park land as percent of city land area. Despite this low ranking, Chicago has the opportunity to add parkland to its urban core by refurbishing the public right of way under the loop elevated tracks as a new type of urban park. A proposal to green the Loop’s elevated rail worked to open roads under the tracks: Wabash, Van Buren, Wells and Lake for pedestrian use only. Cross streets were envisioned to remain active. By relocating CTA Stations into adjacent buildings, replacing platforms with new translucent platforms and removing canopies, the urban canyon opens up a rare opportunity to be exposed to open space deep within the city fabric.

By opening up the airspace adjoining the tracks for recreation and retail, private development could explore a plethora of opportunities to enhance Chicago’s urban amenities. Obtaining underutilized parcels for organic growth of parks into adjacent blocks and linkage to parks and plazas would create civic space to contain public events. These strategies create multiple natural textured gardens for casual vegetal encounters by Chicago visitors and citizens using mass transit.