Wilson Underline

Chicago, IL

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In November 2016 our Principal, Matthew Clapper, became Co-Director of the Wilson "L" Public Space Committee and its Wilson Underline project. Since stepping in Matthew has helped the group move forward and find common ground with the CTA and government officials in charge of the site. He helped institute a shift in focus to a more tactical approach that is easier for the CTA to approve up front, but with the ability to expand and reach the full potential of a permanent urban park in the future.

The Wilson Underline Plan strives to create a versatile and tactical design that can accommodate the need for more community space in the neighborhood, while respecting the need for local business parking, and creates a framework in which the space can become more robust and permanent going forward.

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This framework exists with versatility being it’s driving factor, initially consisting of only a few permanent installations and modifications, allowing the space to be organized to fit the needs of many different scenarios.

This starts with the idea of time. To accommodate the needs of the local businesses and CTA the space will initially function as gated parking during weekdays when the surrounding businesses need the space the most. The space will then convert to being a community gathering space on the weekends, when that function is needed most in the neighborhood.

As just referenced, the CTA has agreed to close off the space to parking on the weekends. They have also agreed to give up a few of the parking spaces and allow us to place two modified shipping containers, that will permanently reside in those spaces (These can be seen as the red rectangles on the plan above).

These containers will act as the anchors of the space. During the week when the public space is closed they will store all of the mobile furniture, generators, etc that are needed to transform the space on the weekends. While, on the weekends, they will host the main supporting functions of any events being held at the Underline. One container will be modified to fold down lengthwise and transform into a stage that can host activities such as music performances, poetry readings, open mic nights, and public speeches. The other container will be converted into a concession stand, which will be able to house a rotating selection of local coffee shops, restaurants, breweries, etc from the surrounding neighborhood.

Between both of the containers, and their immediate functional space, will be the gathering space. This will be the area where urban furniture, lighting, etc is located that allows the community to come together and share a table, enjoy the music, have some good local food and get to know each other. (This is the area notated as purple in the plan above)

The rest of the space surrounding this main corridor will serve the remaining functions of whatever event is being held there that day. We have diagrammatically shown it as 10×10 vendor stall areas (shown as the yellow area in the plan above), as this will probably be the predominate setup for many functions, such as farmer’s markets, art fairs, etc. However, that surrounding space could be reconfigured into whatever layout helps serve that day’s event and purpose the most.

Finally, since we’re limited in the amount of permanent structures and objects that we are able to create in the space, we turn to the existing surfaces and treat them as canvases. We have come up with creative ways of using paint to make the structure, parking surface, and sidewalks more vibrant and help delineate spaces and function areas. We also plan to work with local artists to wrap the containers and other areas of the space. All of this will allow the Wilson Underline to become even more engaged with, and ingrained in, the surrounding Uptown neighborhood and even allows the space to become a bit of a public art piece itself.

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