Bright Ideas

Bright Ideas

Kristen Moreau

Each October inventors, designers, and doers gather together for Chicago Ideas Week to push our city towards new frontiers. This year, architects were well represented. Jeanne Gang and Blair Kamin discussed the intersections of human density and ecology. Carol Ross Barney anchored a multi-discipline conversation about experiential design by asserting, “I want you to feel it emotionally, I want you feel it rationally, and I actually want you feel it with your hands and smell it.” Gordon Gill shared his standards of sustainability in the half-mile high Kingdom Tower.


Highlights from the design-centric portions of the week included upstart entrepreneurs and legacy firms sharing the stage to talk innovation, and a visit to Chicago’s secret bikeshare headquarters. Innovations ranged from revolutionizing maternal and pediatric health in India and Eastern Europe to improving financial literacy for teenagers on Chicago’s South Side. When the moderator asked for the best pieces of advice these innovators had received, Ted Gonder, a twenty-four-year-old CEO, shared his personal mantra:  “Treat your life like an entrepreneurship venture.”

An interactive workshop lead by Cannon Design Principal Mark Whiteley and Associate Vice President Jill Kurth challenged small teams to revitalize Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods through rapid, collaborative idea generation. The diversity in professional experiences in the workshop provoked unusual combinations and highly ambitious action plans, free of architectural jargon. Whiteley and his team plan to collate the ideas generated into a digital publication that will “potentially steward nascent city initiatives into reality.”

At the secret location of Chicago’s bikeshare headquarters, the Divvy siting team hosted a superbly well-orchestrated crash course in urban planning. The animated Q&A with leaders from Divvy, CDOT, Sam Schwartz Engineering, and Alta Bicycle Share focused on growing from early mistakes and their revitalized commitment to social equity in upcoming expansions. In a surprisingly convincing simulation of real world challenges, teams of participants worked to propose realistic sets of new locations for Divvy stations on the fringes of the existing network. The behind the-scenes tour of Divvy’s facility left many visitors in awe of the monumental daily feats essential to operating Chicago’s newest transit system.