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Pre-settlement, Chicago was a network of marshy streams, dry ridges and forest. It was a place of portage enabling trade – a connection between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.

Prairies gave way to farm and Chicago became a formal transportation hub. Imaginary lines – property lines, rights of way - were physically inscribed on the land with iterative waves of infrastructure development – water, utilities, trains, roads. 

But our species is not alone in valuing this area as a place of transit. The waterways that attracted humans also serve as a major migratory route for birds and butterflies and habitat for pollinators. The lines of human development have fragmented these migratory routes. In addition, lawn has replaced diverse ecosystems while offering no ecological value, and pesticides used to maintain them threatens the survival of important pollinators.

The fates of our species are intertwined. 90% of terrestrial plants, which form the basis for 75% of the world's food, need pollinators in order to reproduce. Ecosystems that we depend on for oxygen and raw materials, need birds – transporters of seed - to thrive.     

Our proposal:

  • Seed vacant lots with pollinator seed mix rather than lawn.

  • Re-envision parks, boulevards, parkways, and school grounds as bird/pollinator habitat.

  • Alternatively, use these spaces for mutually beneficial uses such as food production, flower production, or apiaries. 

  • Prohibit the use of Round Up within Chicago.

The City, alone, owns over 4000 lots. If seeded with a pollinator/bird-friendly seed mix, we could establish a network of micro-habitats, create connections that enhance the routes of migration, and ensure the survival of these creatures as well as ourselves. 



The crossing of an imaginary line 100 years ago resulted in the death of an African-American teenager named Eugene Williams, inciting the Chicago Race Riot of 1919. This chain of events demonstrates the power of lines – conceptual and physical – in shaping places and lives. Whether material or immaterial, the lines of Chicago both define, and are defined by, the power relations between the city’s spaces, its people, and how they use these spaces.

On the centenary of the Chicago Race Riot, the Chicago Architectural Club (CAC) is embarking on a year-long investigation of the architectural and social construct of the line: through programming that includes this competition, an exhibition, as well as lectures and other events. Crossing the Line will investigate the physical and conceptual implications of different types of lines and their impact on our built environment.


Chicago is a product of its lines - lines that conceptually and physically demarcate, regulate, contain, separate, and knit together our physical environment. These seams and boundaries, through their thickness and content, have the power to both connect and divide. Some lines, like the invisible one that Eugene Williams inadvertently crossed, segregate groups of people to devastating effect without leaving a physical trace. Others, such as those encircling parishes and neighborhoods, bring people together and foster identities that remain strong even after the lines themselves disappear from maps. Ward and police district boundaries can determine the distribution of power and resources between communities. Zoning boundaries separate the cityscape into distinct parcels, their character and growth set into motion by planners for decades to come. Revitalized infrastructural lines, such as the 606, are a magnet for visitors and investors, setting off a ripple of urban regeneration along their length.

For this year’s Chicago Prize, we are calling for visionary proposals that cross the line. Participants are asked to select one or multiple material and/or immaterial lines that form Chicago, identify their significance, and propose a design that addresses the urban ramifications of these lines.

Choose your Line.

Competitors will select a site of their choice, based on the competitors definition of line within the City of Chicago. This is a speculative ideas competition. There is no set program for this competition; your definition of the program is part of the design problem. Proposals will be assessed on their identification of the issues around the lines of choice, and the design proposal’s efficacy in addressing these issues.



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