Winning Design for the Windy City

Winning Design for the Windy City

At 3,136-sf, the winning lakefront kiosk design is 16 times larger than what the proposal called for.

Newly promoted Assistant Professor of Architecture Aaron Forrest is thrilled that his work will be included in the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial, which opens on October 3. The “outlandish” lakefront kiosk he designed with fellow Architecture faculty members Brett Schneider and Yasmin Vobis has won the biennial’s international Lakefront Kiosk Competition and will serve as a mini architectural library for the three-month duration of the show.

“Yasmin and I have worked with cross-laminated timber (CLT) before, and this seemed like a good opportunity to push the boundaries of the material,” says Forrest. “We worked with Brett – who is a structural engineer as well as an architect – to design the largest possible wooden roof that could be transported on the back of a flatbed truck. It’s a flat, 3,136-sf roof with a series of simple columns that hold it up and a rectangular cutout visitors can access via a staircase to view the city skyline.”

More interested in the challenge itself and the questions it raised, the trio initially had no real hopes of winning the competition. But now that they have, they’ll take turns overseeing construction in Chicago’s Millennium Park throughout the month of September. When the biennial closes in early January, their kiosk – dubbed Chicago Horizon – will be adopted by the Chicago Park District as a kind of popup restaurant in which the city’s top-tier chefs will serve al fresco meals along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Forrest and Vobis have been collaborating on architectural projects for years through ultramoderne, their shared practice in Providence. “We started off working on new media and urban analysis projects,” Forrest notes, “but our practice has evolved over time and now focuses on building. We think about new media – computer and video technology – as something you move through and experience, a way of framing how you see the world.”

Another project they’re collaborating on this summer involves helping the National Park Service (NPS) reframe the visitor experience at Weir Farm National Historic Site in Wilton, CT, one of two NPS sites focused on the visual arts. They’re working with fellow faculty member Suzanne Mathew, an assistant professor in Landscape Architecture, to design mobile “viewfinders” that park rangers can use to direct visitors’ attention to various highlights: specific flowers in bloom, the best vantage points for watching the sun set, etc.

“RISD's focus on making allows us to easily bring concepts and approaches from our practice into the studio and vice versa.”
Assistant Professor of Architecture Aaron Forrest

The viewfinders take the form of moveable wooden poles that also direct visitors to specific websites or Twitter pages for more information about what they’re looking at and to record their own observations. “The Park Service is trying to be more nimble about how it relates to audiences,” Forrest explains. “It’s a way for visitors to interact with the park and create their own content.”

“It has been wonderful working with Suzanne,” notes Vobis. “The faculty community is really strong here. It’s incredible to have access to so many creative people with such widely ranging areas of expertise.”

RISD students are also gaining great hands-on experience helping Forrest and Vobis on the Weir Farm and Chicago biennial projects this summer. “Actually making – working with physical models – is essential to developing architectural design ideas,” says Forrest. “RISD’s focus on making allows us to easily bring concepts and approaches from our practice into the studio and vice versa.”

Simone Solondz

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