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Editorial> Conversation Starter

The issue you hold in your hands represents The Architect’s Newspaper making its largest foray into the Midwest yet. It comes as Chicagoans reflect on the International Olympic Committee’s decision to award the 2016 Games to Rio de Janeiro. However disappointing the decision, it represents a watershed moment for the design community to articulate a vision for the city going forward.

Two potentially transformative projects are underway or on the boards: the redevelopment of the old Michael Reese Hospital campus, which would provide a crucial link from downtown to the South Loop to the South Side; and the Circle Line, which could better integrate a divided city, ease business and recreational commutes, and allow for higher densities and economic growth with less dependence on the automobile.

The redevelopment of the Michael Reese campus offers tremendous economic and cultural potential. Given the modernist heritage on the site, that potential comes with an obligation for greatness. Rather than selling it off to the highest bidder, the city should develop a fine-grained, binding master plan. The site could be divided into smaller development plots, which, given the continued tightness of the credit market, could help speed activity at the campus. Other sites could be held for a time and used for temporary activities like concerts or farmer’s markets. Retention and redevelopment of some of the Gropius buildings could become a model for adaptive reuse of modernist structures, bolstering the South Side’s unmatched collection of midcentury masterworks. Density bonuses could be given to developers who solicit designs through competitions.

Architects are among those most qualified to offer solutions, and, as citizens and professionals, we in the design community have a role to play in holding the city accountable for the future of this publicly owned site.

The Circle Line plan is even more important and is at a much earlier stage of development. By linking all the El lines, the Circle Line would activate the entire system, which in its current spoke-and-axle configuration is too rigid for many trips. It would also encourage dense, urban development in the near South and West sides, supporting the vitality of Downtown. Public hearings began quietly in late September. This is a project to follow and cheer, and it would be fitting to get it off the ground in this year, the Burnham Centennial.

As we launch AN in February of 2010, we aim to foster and enrich the civic and professional conversation, independent of any organization or interest group. As with our East and West editions, our goal is to reflect the aspirations of the region’s architects, provide a forum for debate, and most of all, be consistently informative and useful to our readers. Show us your support by subscribing today. Since the paper is free for architects and architectural designers, there’s no reason not to! Fill out the form on page 29 or sign up at And while you’re waiting for your first print issue to arrive in February, follow us online for news, features, and opinion from the East and West coasts, as well as weekly new stories and blog posts from the Midwest.

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A version of this article appeared in AN 01_10.14.2009_MW.

Alan G. Brake