A design of a proposed Rookery for the 29th Ward, designed by Elva Rubio. The imagined facility would be a residential and support space for the city's young homeless citizens. | Chicago Architectural Foundation

To celebrate its 50th year in operation, the Chicago Architecture Foundation has installed a new exhibition in its atrium at 224 S. Michigan Ave. called “50 Designers, 50 Ideas, 50 Wards.” One ward, one future-focused design.

According to Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin, the “proposals are divided into four themes: jump-starting economic activity; upgrading polluted and abandoned lands as well as areas around infrastructure; spurring community development; and improving the quality of housing.”

For the 28th Ward, architects at the firms Port Urbanism, Forum Studio and Perkins and Will, envisioned a “mixed-use campus that knits together all the anchor institutions in the current Medical District, connects to its adjacent neighborhoods and acts as a magnet for more economic development on the West Side based on the twin pillars of healthcare delivery and wellness, and postsecondary education and research.”

It’s a mouthful of a narrative, which readers can see online at the exhibition’s virtual home, a landing page off of CAF’s website: architecture.org. If the 28th Ward piggybanks on the very concrete plans, already well underway, to renovate the old Cook County Hospital, the 29th Ward’s Rookery Project — imagined by the multidisciplinary artist Elva Rubio — is pure abstraction embedded in hard realities.

Rubio imagines a rookery, “inspired by the description of a clustered place of nesting birds,” somewhere in the 29th Ward along the Eisenhower Expressway that would provide a safe space for the city’s homeless youth.

“Larger residential Rookery facilities offer resources and youth support teams, while a network of ‘nests’ can exist throughout Chicago,” notes the design’s narrative. “The nests feature educational programs and opportunities for commerce and culture. The Rookery system is adaptive and evolves its footprint as needed by the community it serves.”

In the 37th Ward, architects at CAMESgibson envisions luxury high-rises plopped right into a community more widely known for economic distress than distressed wood-floored condominiums. Their design serves both as an aesthetic imagining and a subtle social critique.

“For 16 years, the Chicago Housing Authority has provided rent vouchers that enable low-income residents to move into Chicago’s ‘Opportunity Areas,’ neighborhoods that offer quality housing and a more economically stable and prosperous community,” the narrative notes. “But the program has demonstrated little impact on easing segregation or increasing neighborhood economic diversity.”

What the architects call “Another High Life,” would reverse that historical development model “by stimulating movement into — and CHA investment in — these distressed communities.

“Located within easy access to the CTA Green Line in the 37th Ward, these towers would be unlike the failed projects from the past,” the narrative notes. “Mixed-income residential towers will contain a diverse range of dwelling types, including luxurious penthouses with precious finishes, designer furniture and dramatic views of Chicago’s skyline.”

Click here to experience the virtual exhibition for yourself.