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July 15, 2014

“Changing How We Plan, Design, Build, Live and Think”

The Chicago Architecture Foundation features Great Cites, Great Lakes, Great Basin is its new 2013 Annual Report.


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July 10, 2014

Water Resources Inspire Water Technologies

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River region is home to many of the world’s leading research universities, public and private research & development labs and international corporations.  This collection of human capital is already the foundation of a powerful knowledge economy with global reach. The region also has the world’s largest collection of surface freshwater and has the potential to become for the world leader of freshwater research, learning, and innovation.

At the recent Water Council meeting in Milwaukee June 18-19, many of the speakers commented on the value of a water-centric economy.  But it was Rich Museen, CEO of Badger Meter, who best summarized the idea and the phrase “like water, talent pools” especially caught my attention.  His comparisons of Milwaukee to Silicon Valley, Research Triangle, and Route 128 express how physical clusters, and proper branding can successfully galvanize a local economic sector with ripple effects felt throughout the region.

The City of Milwaukee has a rich history of water companies, many evolving to manage the wet industries of the day. Today, institutes such as The Water Council, the Freshwater Institute and many corporate headquarters in or near Milwaukee are branding and identifying themselves as a globally significant cluster of water expertise.  This is good for the region, and good for solving the near and far water problems of the world.

The Reed Street Yards in one of the exciting projects coming to fruition as a result of this pooled talent base.  This once brownfield area of Milwaukee will soon be the desired address and a thriving cluster of water companies, with startups co-located with billion dollar public companies, who are expanding markets globally and solving problems with local know-how.  The world needs more opportunity to share ideas that improve humanity’s relationship with water, and I look forward to seeing how the Water Council’s work can inspire our region’s leadership to bring innovation that creates freshwater security for people and planet.

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June 23, 2014

Great Basin Exhibition at AIA Convention This Week

Great Cities, Great Lakes, Great Basin is on display at the AIA Convention in Chicago this week. The exhibition  is a collaboration between SOM, the International Secretariat for Water and the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Thanks to sponsors ArcelorMittal, Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, and Sloan for their support.

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April 9, 2014

Great Lakes, Great People: Rick Valicenti

Rick Valicenti is the founder and design director of Thirst, a communication design practice providing design and immersive environments for high profile clients in the architectural, performing arts, and education communities. Rick’s recent honors include the 2011 National Design Award for Communication Design from the Smithsonian Cooper-­Hewitt. SOM worked closely with Thirst on the development of the Great Cities, Great Lakes, Great Basin exhibition among other media throughout the Great Lakes Century initiative. In a recent conversation, Rick described a future where best practices are in practice and calls for a larger grassroots in which every member of the public feels a sense of ownership for regional freshwater resources.

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March 31, 2014

Great Lakes, Great People: Ryan Wilson

Ryan Wilson is a landscape architect and Stormwater Program Manager at the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago. At CNT, Ryan promotes the value of using green infrastructure—trees, rain gardens, and native plants—to soak up raindrops where they fall and alleviate pressures on traditional grey infrastructure systems that lead to flooding. Ryan also leads CNT’s Wetrofit program—a one-stop service for homeowners  to reduce the risk of property flooding. Ryan talked with us recently about how re-reversing the Chicago River would renew public engagement with local water resources, and how multiple smaller, neighborhood-scale solutions can lead to significant improvements in resource use.

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March 24, 2014

Great Lakes, Great People: Christian Greer

Christian Greer is Vice President of Learning Initiatives at Chicago Architecture Foundation. With over 20 years experience in informal education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program design, Christian has become a leading figure in interest-driven learning and oversees CAF’s ArcelorMittal Design Studio; architecture exhibitions; public programs like Drinks and Design and the city’s largest annual architecture event Open House Chicago; youth and teacher education curriculum such as the  and the Architecture Handbook; and digital learning tools such as DiscoverDesign.org. SOM worked closely with Christian on the development of the Great Cities, Great Lakes, Great Basin exhibition and we recently discussed how design and design thinking tools can help reframe challenges associated with sustainability and conservation. One of the greatest challenges, Christian explains, is inspiring people to take an expanded view of the Great Lakes system as a basin that extends beyond the shoreline.

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February 25, 2014

Chicago Tonight: Great Cities, Great Lakes, Great Basin

On Chicago Tonight, Phil Ponce talks with SOM’s Phil Enquist about sustainability, strategies, and urban design aimed at eliminating waste and ensuring fresh water for future generations.

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February 18, 2014

Great Lakes Symposium: Designing for Life along the Water’s Edge

Join us Thursday, March 13 at the Chicago Architecture Foundation for a panel discussion on waterfront design in the Great Lakes region.

Register here: http://www.architecture.org/eveningprograms 


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February 10, 2014

Bring a Big Vision to Cost Assessment

The Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) report released January 6 includes a wealth of technical information supported by complex analyses of integrated infrastructure systems.  However, this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report fails to provide information on how the proposed technological solutions would generate economic and social value.  It asks public officials to make expensive decisions without regional context, a statement of long-term goals, or wider economic impacts.

Introducing the report’s eight alternatives with a vision statement for the Chicago Waterways, Great Lakes Watershed or the Mississippi River basin would have shifted dialogue from the cost of technology applications to the value of applying principles towards a common goal. Without a clearly stated vision, media coverage of the report has focused on the report’s findings regarding costs of controlling invasive species instead of the value of what could be lost – or won – by implementing forward-thinking projects.

This points to a shortcoming in the original definition of the Army Corps’ study and also reflects a gap in the broader public dialogue regarding the future of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.  I believe federally-funded studies such as GLIMRIS should focus on returning the integrity of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds and should be framed with values stemming from the uniqueness of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes basins.  These are North America’s two largest watersheds, where the threat of invasive species between them is real and damages are documented in billions of expenditure and lost value annually. In addition, invasive species take away from the character (and tourism value) of our localities, weaken the connections to our natural history, and erode our sense of place.

While the costs of controlling invasive species are significant, it is important to account for how these investments could help address some of the Chicago region’s serious challenges related to water quality, flooding, and transportation.  An appropriate solution would address these issues holistically  – with the costs and benefits accounted for comprehensively.  Billions of dollars will be invested on transportation, water quality and flooding regardless of how we manage invasive species.  Let’s consider how these investments will work as integrated systems – along  with invasive species protection.

This GLIMRIS report shows we can devote countless hours to debating technological alternatives.  But without guiding principles, we are bound to make expensive reactionary mistakes like the electric barriers in the Ship and Sanitary Canal, designed to protect against the transfer of the round goby but not turned on until the goby was far past the barrier. The other route, which I urge our public officials to pursue, is to plan with a long-term vision and purposefully restore our natural assets.

SOM’s “Great Cities, Great Lakes, Great Basin” exhibition at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, created in partnership with the International Secretariat for Water,  demonstrates that this watershed of 50 million people is one vast and vulnerable resource.  The exhibition’s “call to vision” resonates with diverse groups of stakeholders because of the absence of other large-scale, long-term holistic thinking.

The GLIMRIS – and other publicly-funded studies – presents a critical opportunity to establish a vision for the 21st century. A long-term vision needs leadership, and an agency like the Army Corps that has regulatory powers over our waterways could put real action behind a bold vision. As citizens and as business leaders, we must demand that public agencies accept this responsibility and act strategically towards a better future.

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February 4, 2014

Save the Date: Great Lakes Symposium

Please join us  Thursday, March 13, 2014 for a Great Lakes Symposium, “Designing for Life along the Water’s Edge,” at the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

To plan for the sustainability of our fresh water system, designers of major urban parks and infrastructure projects must consider the health of the Great Lakes. This evening discussion will explore the complexities of designing along the water’s edge from a number of perspectives. Representatives from cities around the Great Lakes in the US and Canada will discuss the complexities of designing within this ecosystem and discuss a wide range of projects; from the comprehensive urban design created by SOM for the Chicago Lakeside development, to designs for Toronto’s waterfront, and efforts to revitalize urban centers like Detroit through design.


  • Phil Enquist: Partner in Charge of Urban Design and Planning for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
  • Toni L. Griffin: Professor and Director of the J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City at the City College of New York
  • Chris Glaisek: Vice President of Planning + Design, Waterfront Toronto
  • Steven Litt: Architecture Critic, Cleveland Plain Dealer

Time: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Location: CAF Lecture Hall, 224 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago, Illinois
Registration: http://tickets.architecture.org/public/show.asp?shcode=447 

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