Chicago was the birthplace of the first skyscraper. It was here that architecture took a turn, for the better or, the worse. The population growth meant that buildings were built only to provide shelter to this ever-growing population. Chicago is where a revolution in architecture began, but it is also the place where the aspect of humanizing architecture started to decline.
Rapid urbanization and growth have destroyed a lot of things in its way. Architecture not only went away from being human-centric, but it also took away from the few pieces of architecture that brought a person closer to nature. In 1962 the construction of the Dan Ryan expressway meant that the community of Chinatown in Chicago had to sacrifice two parks, which were the only open space present in the district. But little did they know that they weren’t sacrificing only the land, they were sacrificing the childhood of their children who forcibly had to use the streets and sidewalks as their playgrounds. Ping Tom was a civic leader and a vital member of the Chinatown community. Along with a few others, he realized the need for open spaces, real green open spaces like the ones they grew up in, and where the future generations could grow upon.
In a proposal to expand Chinatown, Ping Tom put forth the suggestion of adding a park. Decades after fighting for funds and open space, Ping Tom acquired land for his project, of which he left 6 Acres of land along the stretch of the Chicago river untouched for the park. The aspect of having an open green space was like a breath of fresh air to the community who were diminishing compared to the buildings that kept on growing.
The Ping Tom memorial park’s creation is a perfect example of how the people can indeed come together to better the community. Although designed by the Site Design Group, decisions were made for the community, by the community. The architect very craftily uses the unbuilt fabric to create movement. Ernest Wong from Site Design explains how it was essential to connect to the park’s cultural aspect and how that was the starting point for their design. Looking at traditional Chinese gardens as inspiration, they used interlinking pathways to help create courtyards that serve as spaces to sit and enjoy the greenery around. The use of traditional Chinese architecture helped in not only bringing the community together but also to allow the people to connect to their roots. Whereas the idea of “Community” is further cemented as people contribute to the building of the park as they each plant trees native to the city. The use of Murals on the bridge walls that cross over the park further strengthens the park’s connection to the city as it adds a sense of vibrancy to the whole place.
The effect of the park was more than just an open space with recreational areas. It served a deeper purpose, as a space that would feel secure and safe. The park is meant to be a place where the users create memories that they cherish. The power of this community space is only fully understood when a child chooses to be here, as this would make them feel better than being in the Drug infested Railway dock that existed before here.
Using the ground, the architect created a different topology to take full advantage of the landscape and site. Eliminating the 15-foot drop that existed between the river edge and the river, they manage to attract the user by taking advantage of the human tendency of being attracted to water. To further facilitate this connection, a boathouse was created where visitors could rent out a boat and set sail in the Chicago River. Truly utilizing the idea of “Unbuilt”, the park’s entrance is not marked by gates, but rather 4 Large pillars with engravings of the Chinese dragon. After entering the park, a pagoda-like pavilion greets the visitor. It has the roof tilings as well as the ornamentation, which is unique to China. To further reinforce the influence of Chinese architecture, a pink bridge with ornamentation weaves a pathway along the park.
On the other side, a kid’s play area has been created, with a combination of open space and space utilized by slides and other facilities. This design allows the kids enough room to run around and not be restricted to using only the equipment found at the site. This holistic approach by the Architects shows their inclusive values. They realized that gardens are usually created for the rich and the elite, such as the French gardens or the English gardens. Contrasting this ideology, they decided that the Ping Tom park was to be the garden for the common people, the community’s people. This sensitivity possibly drove the design decisions to be centered around the human.
Other than the unbuilt fabric, which invariantly contributes to making the neighborhood a better space. But the built fabric, too, does its part for the community by being highly sustainable. The fieldhouse, which was built in 2013, for example, has a Platinum LEED rating. Stormwater is efficiently managed, while 5000 gallons of rainwater is stored in their rainwater harvesting tank, reducing the usage and wastage of water. The use of insulation in the walls effectively helps reduce the energy costs in the building as it cools the inside, negating the use of artificial methods. Material is procured for areas acceptably near the site, and disposing of the construction materials sustainably causes the building to be sustainable and help the overall community.
This park was supposed to create an open space for the people in the community of Chinatown. Still, it does so much more, It not only provides these open spaces but gives back to the people what they craved, from a sense of security to a more profound sense of rootedness and belonging. The park unforgivingly provides a unique mix of China’s tradition and culture, whereas allowing Chicago to creep in and make its essence felt subtly through the unbuilt. The park successfully changes the longstanding culture of producing dense architecture and manages to once again Humanize architecture for the better of the community and everyone around it.