Chicago Horizon

By Rachel Back | Dec 09, 2015

Chicago Horizons-complete

In his 1909 plan for Chicago, Architect Daniel Burnham proposed to create a space that connected the city’s population to the lakefront. Although his vision was not realized until the 20th century, the lakefront is now a major attraction for tourists and locals. Kiosks along the shore have many uses, including providing shopping, eating, and recreational amenities. The Chicago Architecture Biennial held an international competition for a new kiosk that could function as a model for future lakefront additions and a permanent contribution to city life. RISD Architecture Faculty Aaron Forrest and Yasmin Vobis of the architecture office Ultramoderne collaborated with structural engineer Brett Schneider to design the winning entry. With help from RISD students and recent alumni, the team designed a kiosk that challenges the scope of services generally provided by these structures.

The design, drawing inspiration from the long-span structures of Mies van der Rohe and the Eames film Powers of Ten, proposes a 56′ square flat roof made entirely out of mass timber, aiming to provide as large a space as possible for the Biennial and the City of Chicago with a minimum environmental and economic impact.

The thirteen columns support a two-way wood roof

The thirteen columns support a two-way wood roof

Supported at only thirteen points, the carbon negative, mass timber structure is the first point-supported two-way wood roof built to date. The fin columns are distributed in a finely tuned radial pattern to respond to lateral loads and uplift; their orientation creates an intense focus on the space and activities central to the pavilion while simultaneously directing it outwards towards the horizon. The expansive plane of the long-span roof is interrupted by only the structural columns and two chain link volumes stretched between roof and ground.

Chainlink Model

Radical simplicity underlies a subtle and varied experience. The lateral reach of the roof recalibrate the experience of two extremes of the Chicago landscape: at ground level, the Lake Michigan horizon dominates, forming a line of symmetry between ground and canopy. From the viewing platform, the roof becomes a new artificial horizon, shutting out the foreground and emphasizing the vertical skyline above an abstract floating plane.


Chicago Horizons Rooftop

The project was the result of a close collaboration between architects, engineers, and fabricators. Yasmin, Aaron, and Brett, worked very closely with CLT manufacturer Nordic Structures to design a structure that was nearly entirely prefabricated and could be built in the two week timeframe allowed by the Biennial.

Chicago Horizons Model

The designers worked closely with RISD students and recent alumni through the summer to model, simulate, and mockup various aspects of the design to ensure a rapid and seamless construction process. The integrated approach to the pavilion’s design stemmed largely from the use of models as a low-tech means of making realistic images for the competition.

Roof Raise

The competition model, built by Will Gant (BArch ‘17) later became a test bed for the design of the building itself, with variations in column placement, viewing platform construction, and lighting sequence all tested and simulated in the model itself. In addition, team members Hua Gao (MArch ‘17) and Ronak Hingarh (MArch ‘16) tested the unique chain link partition system, in which chain link mesh is stretched vertically from roof to ground without additional framing, with students at the BEB over the summer.

Chainlink Mockup

The lighting system was tested and then built at full scale at the Ultramoderne office in Providence, with an arduino used to simulate the lighting sequence in the model and later used in the final installation in Chicago. RISD Architecture alumna Emily Yen (MArch ‘15) was responsible for programming, designing, and later overseeing installation of the lighting system in Chicago. She worked with Tida Osotsapa (M.Arch ‘16) to prefabricate the system in Providence.

Lighting Install

Chicago Horizon is the winner of the BP Prize in the Chicago Lakefront Kiosk Competition for the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial. Generous additional support for both design and construction have been provided by Nordic Structures, reThink Wood, and the Rhode Island School of Design.


Spring 2017 Events

  • February 23, 6:30 PM Brett Schneider, Guy Nordenson and Associates & RISD Architecture
  • March 2, 6:30 PM at RISD Auditorium Petra Blaisse, Inside Outside, Hosted with INTAR, Textiles, RISD Museum
  • February 27, 6:30 PM Jeanette Kuo, Karamuk*Kuo
  • March 13, 6:30 PM Allan Wexler, Allan Wexler Studio, Hosted with ID
  • March 16, 6:30 PM Jarrett Walker, Jarrett Walker + Associates
  • April 3, 6:30 PM Kunle Adeyemi, NLÉ, Yoder Lecture
  • April 24, 6:30 PM Nader & Katie Faulkner, NADAAA, Shoemaker Lecture
  • May 11, 6:30 PM Shumi Bose, Central Saint Martins & Architectural Association

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