Ask yourself, “What makes a place a home?” 

That is the question Tatiana Bilbao, founder of the award-winning architecture firm Tatiana Bilbao Studio, asks viewers of her firm’s proposed design for a six-flat building. It reflects on how a building can be designed to respond to different households and foster a sense of community, some of the goals the City of Chicago aims to achieve through an architectural design competition called Come Home. 

Tatiana Bilbao Studio proposes a six-flat with units that can be adapted to the needs of its residents, from multi-generational families to individuals. It features shared spaces for residents to build areas that serve their communal needs, such as studios, laundry rooms, communal kitchens or exercise rooms. Provided | Chicago Architecture Center

Bilbao’s proposal is one of 42 housing designs that could be built in vacant lots in communities like East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Auburn Gresham, Woodlawn, Bronzeville and Englewood. Partnering with the Chicago Architecture Center, the city invited national and international architecture firms to propose designs for single-family homes, two- and three-flats, rowhouses and six-flats planned for the South and West Sides.

On Tuesday, 42 of the best designs were presented at the Chicago Architecture Center, 111 E. Wacker Dr. Many of the designs feature modern facades, green spaces, flexible layouts, sustainable materials, and shared amenities like rooftops, courtyards, gardens and multiple-use rooms. 

“How do you grow neighborhoods in an inclusive manner?” asked Maurice D. Cox, Commissioner of the city’s Department of Planning and Development. Cox added the initiative aims to rejuvenate West and South Side neighborhoods, foster home ownership and grow affordable housing. 

The city agency is one of the partners behind this community development initiative along with the Department of Housing. Cox said these designs will help create “a laboratory for what new neighborhoods in the South and West Side look like.”

In the next phase of the competition, a jury of expert leaders will select the best ideas that will be featured in a pattern book city planners and developers can use to build innovative housing in Chicago. 

Furthermore, the city plans to pair the winning firms with real estate developers to build anywhere from 30 to 100 housing units in vacant lots provided by the city later this year. Cox said this initiative will move forward even after Mayor Lori Lightfoot steps out of office in May. 

“We have the tools, we have the resources, both financial and land.” he said. “The amount of community ownership and expectation is intense.”

With this initiative, the city aims to rejuvenate West and South Side neighborhoods, a challenge that calls for responding to varying housing needs, the current infrastructure and character of each community. 

“It’s a big challenge to make the block feel cohesive and the streets feel safe,” said Mimi Hoang. Hoang is co-founding partner of the architecture firm nArchitects, partly responsible for the renovation of Chicago’s Navy Pier in 2016. 

“Which is why it’s not just one project [that is needed].”

 Nader Tehrani, principal of NADAAA, said “housing remains an understudied discipline in the United States, unlike academies in Europe” adding participating in the design competition was a “no-brainer.” His firm’s design includes a six-flat unit that was split into two to create a common courtyard that promotes a sense of community among neighbors. 

Two helical staircases create space for a common courtyard that fosters a sense of community among the six-flat residents in NADAAA’s proposal. The staircases also creates space for each unit to have its own balcony facing the courtyard.  Provided | Chicago Architecture Center 

While the next phase aims to match developers who are interested in building the winning design, Cox said financial incentives for developers are tied to affordability so these housing options remain accessible. 

Each of the 42 proposed designs is on display at the Chicago Architecture Center | Francia Garcia Hernandez

“For us the whole idea is to try to repopulate neighborhoods and invite people who left to come home,” Cox said. 

A public exhibition of all designs will be on display at the Chicago Architecture Center until March 26. Residents are invited to provide feedback through the Chicago Architecture Center’s website, where an online exhibition is also available.