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Chicago Stockyards 01 | groundwork.

This blog will start to detail the process of a semester long project in my fourth year design studio. It will cover the research, the planning and the eventual design solution to the project. The first installment is entitled groundwork and will cover the first few weeks of the project and the research done around it.

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This fall our design studio is focusing on the historic Chicago Stockyards, which in its heyday was the largest meat packing plant in the United States.Today it is a bustling industrial park in the middle of one of the most diverse areas in the city. The problem about this area is that there is all of this industry in the middle of the mile-by-mile site, most of which is food production/distribution, but the neighborhoods surrounding the site, the ones built around the stockyards originally, are not a large part of this local ecosystem.

The History

As previously stated the Chicago Stockyards were the largest yards in the country, so much so that it was given the infamous nickname, "hog-butcher of the world." This title would stick until the 1950s when the industry would begin to decentralize as advances in transportation and distribution made it easier to do the work locally. The history of the Stockyards echoed throughout the area in Chicago, it has shaped the neighborhoods around it and was one of the big reasons for Chicago's population explosion.

The melting pot that formed here because of the jobs being offered at the stockyards was one of the largest in the world. Immigrants were flocking to Chicago, primarily from Europe, with Ireland and Germany being the two main groups of immigrants in 1865. The neighborhoods that have formed out of these immigrants flocking to the yards include; Back of the Yards, Canaryville and McKinley Park. The people in the neighborhoods were just as important as the people working in the Yards and had a better experience, too.

The stockyards also indirectly changed the history of food production for the better. Books like The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and Slaughterhouse by Dominic A. Pacyga, revealed the true condition of the stockyards. These conditions were borderline inhumane for people to be working in. Sinclair talks about dead rats along with children’s fingers and cow fetuses shoveled into sausage grinding machine, diseased cows slaughtered for beef, and filth and guts from the floor swept up and sold as ‘potted ham’. The workers were also worked all day with little to know breaks. Most of these workers knew that they needed to persevere through the situation because if they could not do the work there would be plenty of fresh meat (no pun intended) coming in from Europe looking for work. It took these kinds of books to truly understand what was going on in the stockyards because to most Americans the stockyards were a mystifying place.

Hearing about the severity of the conditions of the stockyards, it was quite shocking to hear that people would travel from hundreds of miles away from Chicago and come and visit the stockyards. "At the turn of the twentieth century, a reported five hundred thousand people visited the Union Stock Yard annually," Pacyga writes. Families would witness the slaughtering process in its brutal efficiency, as the stockyards "presented a compelling if somewhat frightening window to the future." It was this industrialization taking place at the stockyards, not been seen before and for most Americans, that attracted them to the Chicago and turned an industrial site into essentially a tourist destination.

Today

The site that was the home to the former stockyards is now an industrial complex home to a multitude of businesses, most of which are in fact tied to the food production industry, with 6 being tied to the meatpacking industry. What seemed like a struggling industrial park on the South side of Chicago was immediately disproved when we visited the site. There is a lot going on with tons of product being brought in and out of the site per day. For most of the studio there was an agreement that the yards has transitioned well into a new use and being used well. But there were some glaring concerns about the site that needed to be addressed.

Research

Preliminary research took place to began to understand the mile-by-mile area, and while some of it tied into the history and some of basics of the site, the big thing was to find and understand the issues in the area, decide on goals for the site and the provide strategies to attack the the issues to reach the goals.

Issues

  • One of the biggest issues that was found, particularly when visiting the site was trying to navigate the site. It was difficult to find points of entry that could easily get into the site, which seemed odd due to the high volume of truck traffic that the site sees.

  • This issue has split all of the neighborhoods and has made it hard to get from one side to the other. There is only one road that goes completely through the whole mile-by-mile site.

  • A surprising issues that was found was the lack of employment of the local neighborhoods in the former stockyards site. The number of people in the neighborhoods surrounding the site that work in the site is quite low and that most people commute into the site, primarily by car, for work. On top of the lack of local employment, there is a lack of complete employment as these neighborhoods, especially the ones to the south side of the site, have high unemployment rates.

  • Finally the third main issues was a lack of green or environmentally friendly design. Of course you could say this is an industrial park and it is hard to design for these types of buildings. But that would be considered naive, mainly because there are two very good prime examples of green design already on site.

  • Testa Produce and The Plant are two buildings producing and distributing products all over Chicago.

  • Testa Produce currently calls home a LEED Platinum building that even has a wind turbine out front of their building.

  • The Plant is an adaptive reuse of an old slaughterhouse that takes every product that is made in the building and tries to connect it into the rest of the building so each company can take advantage of someone else's byproduct and reuse it, and turn it into another product.

Goals

  • Reconnect the surrounding neighborhoods. Seems easy enough but finding the best solution will be the difficult part.

  • Open opportunities on site for local employment. Provide jobs that most people could do to create an entry way into the workforce people who might not have been able to take part in it in the past.

  • The last goal is to focus on green design on site and show that you can actually design industrial buildings that can be function, green and pleasing to look and and use.

Strategies

  • One way that reconnecting the whole site could be accomplished would be by having a trail run through the site from north to south, with fingers from the east and west tying in, that runs from the south of the site to Bubbly Creek to the north and can connect to the trails there.

  • Tackling the unemployment issue would be done through the staffing of an on-site restaurant, community gardens, and entrepreneurial space for people to produce a product of their own to then sell.

  • The strategy used to bring in green design to the site would be through some of the basics like PV panels on the roofs and a focus on water retention, which can be used back into the community gardens.

From this research three primary concepts were developed. They are as follows;

These concepts would become the focus of the project and be the main driver in the design of the programming.

Community - Being a focal point for the surrounding area to bring people together within the historic area of the stockyards. Using this space to tackle local issues like unemployment and the food deserts.

Education - Offer a place for people within the community to gather and learn about different ways to make a living whether that be through cooking or growing local foods.

Urban Farming - Being able to apply the education on site and put it to a practical use for the community to provide a new source of income to allow the opportunity for people to make a living for themselves that they might not have previously had.

Mile-by-mile with the sites chosen within

Site Selection

The process for this project started with finding the right site for our programs concepts. While looking at the mile-by-mile site a few locations stood out compared to the rest. Those were the green patches stitched within the site. These sites (called out in grey) were former homes to different types of structures, primarily during the heyday of the stockyards but became vacant between the 1960's to today. The goal was to pick sites that would be spread out throughout the mile-by-mile to push activity beyond just small area. However, there would be a need to base the operation out of, and that site location is the original site for the project.

Site with dimensions

This site is located in the southeast quadrant of the larger stockyards area. The site is found on the corner of 45th St and S Halsted St and is approximately 7.25 acres in size. This site stuck out in particular to its proximity to a local elementary/middle school where the educational portion of the programming could serve the students there. Another reason for this site selection is the location compared to the poverty levels in the area, the further south one goes around the site, poverty levels begin to climb. By putting the site close to these undeserved areas it offers a workplace relatively close to home. With the size of this site it opens up opportunities to do on site education for the urban farming while still being able to become a base of operations for the surrounding sites.

Part of this site that was intriguing was seeing a thin narrow strip that ran between the two properties to the south. This strip used to be a rail line that ran through the site, but is now abandoned and not in use. This becomes an ideal spot to begin a stockyards trail that could run the length of the site for more foot traffic and also offer a way to begin to connect the satellite sites to the main one and to the surrounding community.

Conclusion

The research and analysis has finally brought the beginnings to an actual project and have laid the foundation to build upon as the project develops. From here the project will begin a massing study in which steps will be taken to understand where to place the building on the site and how the form will push the programming but in turn how some programming will change the form of the building. These decisions will push onto the actual site and inform some of the decisions that get made on the landscape surrounding the building.

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