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Design as Intervention: Activating the “In Between”

On May 8th, our class, Process(ing) Transformation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, finished with an optimistic note for what's to come, thanks to guest reviewers and peers who gave critical feedback for our design intervention framework proposal for Anthony Overton School during summer of 2019, as part of the Chicago Architectural Biennial. Our guests included Katherine Darnstadt, architect and educator who is the founder and principal of Latent Design and Rich Alapack, founder of We All Live Here.

The summer 2019 proposal for Overton School, was a collaborative effort between the four of us; Lianne Ahn, Julia Lopes, Valerie Wong, and myself that begin to create a framework for collaboration; this framework organizes and makes sense of how, and to what extent, our design intervention will effect for the stakeholders, the residents, and the participants. We had two design interventions for which to create a framework in mind:

1. To create another interactive map, like the one made not so long ago near Indiana Ave, but with keener focus on Bronzeville rather than Chicago as a whole, with activities surrounding it.

2. To create a neighborhood tour in which we introduce newcomers and residents alike to existing programs in Bronzeville that provide entrepreneurial opportunities

In order to create the framework for these ideas, we made four categories to work with: Consistent Presence, Programs around Overton, Spatial Networks, and Partnerships. We also discussed how we as designers should cooperate with Bronzeville residents and use local resources for process-based design interventions to cultivate relationships and promote civic participation. The driving force for this proposal was the idea of designers as facilitators of exchange rather than one-way knowledge providers when creating with, not for, the community.

Consistent Presence

For this category, I focused on specifying how the new map on the ground would be created. To do so, I created a schedule and a guideline that the host and its participants could follow. Since we are also proposing to make markers to locate different anchor points in the neighborhood on the map, I also designed what these markers would look like and be made out of. Lastly, I outlined the two different types of installations that can also be used as chairs; Colors of Past focus on the past and Dream Life focus on the future, but they both tie people in and outside of Bronzeville together to share a sense of belonging and bring optimism for what can happen in the future at Bronzeville.

Programs around Overton

Valerie drew an axonometric of Anthony Overton school and its surroundings to show the variety of design interventions, which are equitable and inclusive, that could happen in the near future. The programs include radio and DJ shows, food and beverage booths, graffiti/ mural art, narrative projects, outdoor basketball court, and the Bronzeville Map; these programs were inspired by precedent projects that engaged community members during the design process, to create unique soft infrastructures as outcomes to allow people to reclaim agency within the decision-making process on a city level.

The proposed programs also prioritize bringing existing social justice groups, neighbors, designers, and activists together to create value and prevent erasure of the past when adapting to the present and the future. Ultimately, the programs aspire to cultivate relationships and partnerships, generate new collaborative narratives, reconnect stakeholders to the community, and prototype new types of soft infrastructure.

Spatial Networks

Lianne mapped existing programs and areas that may be relative to the neighborhood tour. With a focus on entrepreuniral opportunities related to innovation and technology, Lianne pinpointed 7 places that could become"tour stops" during the neighborhood tour. These places include: Sweet Water Foundation, Boxville, Urban Juncture, Boombox, The Bee Branch Library, Overton Hygienic building, and Kaplan Institute at Illinois Institute of Technology.

The goal for the tour, which would take around 2.5 hours is to bring different entities together and provide opportunities for various stakeholders to collaborate with each other.

She also highlighted nearby schools and its attendance boundaries, higher education zones, and business corridors. The overlapping boundaries, defined by patterns, expressed the relationship between these different entities and how they influence or coexist with one another.


Julia focused in on the networks and partnerships that could happen amongst the 7 locations Lianne has marked on her map. Julia provided a closer look at each place, with "postcard-worthy" images of them, to mimic what the tourists could see as way-finding and iconic moment. Her research included what they do, where they are, and what type of resources they can provide.

The class may be over, but the work is only just beginning! #dreamteam


PU PU is a MFA graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects.

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