String Theory | A Hanging Garden for Chicago


Jules Guerrin’s drawings for the Chicago Plan in 1909. Source: Blueprint Chicago

“Everyone has their hypotheses. The general theory that I am trying to propound underpins all individual hypotheses”.
-Yona Friedman

Recently MAS Studio and the Chicago Architectural Club, organized NETWORK ReSet, an international design competition to rethink the Chicago Boulevard System. The competition context was as following:

Proposed by John S. Wright in 1849, the system was envisioned twenty years later when the State Legislature established the South, West, and Lincoln Park Commissions. Also referred as the “Emerald Necklace” since the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, it is composed by a series of streets and parks, some of them designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and William Le Baron Jenney. After the mid-twentieth century, the lack of proper funding, the split of management of the system as a whole and the migration of residents to the suburbs were some of the circumstances that accelerated the deterioration of the system. While portions of it, such as the Logan Square Boulevards District still maintain the original character, other parts have just become underutilized areas and oversized streets that act as barriers within neighborhoods.

With proposals received from all over the world, one of the projects was designed by the Department of Unusual Certainties, on the idea of a “hanging garden” which is related with another project discussed before in this blog. But the difference between this project and the Naja & deOstos‘ hanging cemetery is that in this case, we’re going to talk about a ludic public space hanging above the Boulevard System of Chicago.


The String Theory plan by DoUC

If Yona Friedman dreamt with filling the air of Paris with his Ville Spatiale now DoUC is dreaming to fill the air of Chicago with a kind of “mobile architecture” as a reaction to “The Sadness Felt when Walking by an Empty Playground“. Analyzing Friedman’s concept of Ville Spatiale as the most significant application of “mobile architecture”, we can understand it as a spatial, three-dimensional structure raised up and fitted inside some of the city “voids”; and it seems that this was exactly what DoUC are proposing with their project, while asking themselves:

What if people could pick and choose the kinds of infrastructure they wanted to use on the boulevards? What if there was a storage system so that amenities could simply be ‘put away’ when not used – clearing up the ground plane of the boulevard? What if this system could serve as a spectacle in itself, drawing people to the space?

The result is an attempt to create a physical framework to house moveable program infrastructure which can be freely used and not used by boulevard strollers.

From this:


Yona Friedman, La ville spatiale [1960]. Source: Megastructure Reload

To this:

The String Theory by DoUC

The “String Theory” is based on the hypothesis that if an empty playground is sad looking, 26 miles of empty playground is even more incredibly sad looking. Then, they want to create a network with posts, beams, pulleys, ropes, and counterweights work together to house a cacophony of infrastructure three metres above the boulevard. Chairs, benches, playground equipment, picnic tables, chess tables, ping pong tables, work stations, and whatever may be desired, are clipped onto ropes and hung above the boulevard until a user lowers them to the ground.

The most interesting fact is that the effect can be similar to that of entering a bazaar or fair where goods clutter the ceiling, leaving the corridors free for circulation. As DuOC describes their project, “when no program is being used a clear pathway is formed by the ropes of the counterweights. As more program is concurrently used, a tangled forest of ropes start to appear on the ground as a views to the sky above begin to clear.”


Chicago’s Empty Necklace


The String Theory by DoUC

Yona Friedman wrote for La Ville spatiale: “The mobile element consists of walls, base-surfaces and dividing walls which make the individual division of the space possible; it could be called the ‘filling’ for the infrastructure. All elements which come into direct contact with the users [i.e. those they see, touch etc.] are mobile, in contrast to the infrastructure, which is used collectively and remains fixed.”

The Department of Unusual Certainties wrote for the String Theory: “Use and non-use of the available amenities manifests itself directly on the look and feel of the space as the configuration of ropes, objects and counterweights changes. In this way String Theory presents a figurative method of dealing with programmatic uncertainty by integrating a storage system that plays with the limited space of the boulevard.”

So… do you want to come and play here… in the air?


The String Theory by DoUC. For high resolution click here

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We want to say thank you to Brendan Cormier from the Department of Unusual Certainties for sharing their project with us!

Recommended and related readings:
– MAS Studio | Network ReSet Competition
– MASContext issue 09 | NETWORK
– Floater Magazine | Wave Garden
– Department of Unusual Certainties | String Theory


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