The Available City invites participants to examine the cultural and financial value of vacant, or available, land in Chicago—particularly the evolving financial, cultural, and infrastructural pressures that influence the location and duration of land vacancy. PORT’s installation for the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial, in collaboration with LendLease and located on the south branch of the Chicago River, reveals the site’s history of intensive use and vacancy over the last 150 years.
For nearly a century beginning in late 1800s, a slender four-story Chicago Great Western Freight warehouse occupied the east riverbank of the current Southbank Park from Harrison Street to Polk Street. The warehouse interfaced directly with river freight boats on the west side and cargo trains on the east adjacent to Grand Central Station. The efficient warehouse structure exemplified the economic and infrastructural demands on the Chicago riverfront during that era.
By the middle of the twentieth century, river freight and warehousing declined in favor of interstate highway trucking, ultimately leading to the demolition of the Chicago Great Western Freight warehouse and nearby Grand Central Station in 1970. The seven-acre site was abandoned for the next forty years. With no communal or infrastructural purpose, the riverfront site became available.
Over the last twenty years, Chicago’s South Loop and Printer’s Row neighborhoods experienced a significant population growth, largely due to the rapid construction of new residential developments. As part of this South Loop renaissance, LendLease acquired the vacant riverfront parcel in 2015 and developed plans for a residential complex, a public park, and a riverfront boardwalk.
The River Frames installation reveals the historical layers of availability on the Southbank site. A gravel walkway traces the footprint of the Chicago Great Western Freight warehouse, leading visitors to the radial cluster of river frames. The simple steel frames and enclosure reflect the spartan warehouse structure that occupied Southbank Park for nearly a century, while the domestic peaked roof, radial layout, and central collective space promote the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial’s mission to examine availability and generate new collective spaces throughout all Chicago neighborhoods.