Design competitions are a funny exercise: Invite architects to produce thoughtful and visually interesting drawings without compensation, convene a jury to decide which ones are the best, and then write a press release announcing the winners. It’s a relatively commonplace activity used in Chicago that, on one hand, has yielded the Tribune Tower; and on the other, has resulted in thousands of foamcore boards in the dumpster. Earlier this year, when the City of Chicago announced an effort to “repopulate” the South and West sides of the city through infill development on vacant lots in an initiative called Come Home Chicago, it launched a national design competition as an opportunity to address housing scarcity and post-industrial depopulation woes. This is not a new idea: Cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Houston have launched similar campaigns in recent years.
Chicago’s competition, managed by the Chicago Architecture Center