The Thick City Pavilion | Chicago, USA | PORT



PORT’s 2015 Chicago Ideas Week Artist in Residence Proposal—The Thick City Pavilion—looks to engage the history, status and future of Chicago’s urban form by calling attention to the layered stack of infrastructural strata upon which the city rises. By challenging the conventional notion of Chicago as “flat,” we look to reframe and challenge all-too-familiar readings of the city in order to open up a dialogue about its potential future(s).


The Thick City Pavilion is located a short walk from where the city was founded over two centuries ago along the banks of the Chicago River. Here we can see first-hand how Chicago’s foundation has been perpetually manipulated, built upon and thickened ever since. Going back to the “Raising of Chicago” that literally elevated the city’s streets and buildings out of the mud of the 1850’s, a close study of the Pioneer Court site reveals a layering of urban activity and systems that is uniquely Chicago. Yet despite the fundamental role this layering plays in the choreography and performance of the city, it is a characteristic that most Chicagoan’s take for granted, and that most visitors remain completely unaware.


For example, Pioneer Court sits over 30-feet above the Chicago’s historical elevation on the banks of the river below. Between the plaza and the river we find distinct urban strata including the Chicago Riverwalk, Lower Michigan Ave., and Upper Michigan Ave., as well as various service and parking levels. Further, set above street level is the granite surface of Pioneer Court. The Thick City Pavilion adds five more layers to this stack, effectively doubling Chicago’s occupiable urban strata at this location.


The pavilion’s dynamic interior spaces—composed of layers of colorful painted wood and various densities of soft, spongy, springy foam—encourage reflection on the layering of the city by offering a range of surfaces and spaces upon which to sit, climb, jump, read, chat, reflect and enjoy. Four super-sized, illuminated balloons comprise one more layer of strata floating at varied heights above this artificial landscape.


At its core, our proposal celebrates the constructed nature of Chicago’s urban landscape, in turn celebrating its malleability. We believe these two attributes are fundamental to the character of Chicago in that their presence has encouraged the city to regularly reshape its physical form to meet its ambitions. Chicago was once known for its emphatic, deliberate, ambitious approach to city making. The Thick City Pavilion is predicated on the belief that this waning reputation should be embraced and reclaimed.





The Thick City Pavilion

Design Firm | PORT

Location | Chicago, Illinois U.S.A.
Date | Fall 2015
Status | Complete
Size | 1,600 square feet
Budget | $50,000
Client |  Chicago Ideas Week, 2015 Artist in Residence Pavilion
PORT Design Team | Andrew Moddrell, Christopher Marcinkoski, Brandon Biederman and Laura-Anne Wong.

About Damian Holmes 3339 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at