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Chicago neighborhoods get makeovers as part of Activate! design competition

  • Jameson Skaife, a 28-year-old landscape designer, and Eric Koffler, a 32-year-old architectural designer, created this winning design titled ReActuate for installation in the Pilsen area.
Jameson Skaife, a 28-year-old landscape designer, and Eric Koffler, a…
July 17, 2013|By JoVona Taylor | RedEye

Four rundown areas in Woodlawn, Pilsen, East Garfield Park and Old Town are getting a makeover courtesy of Activate! 2013 design competition winners.

Activate! is an annual design competition created by members of Architecture for Humanity Chicago in 2010 when a client approached the team looking to transform a vacant lot in Little Village into a useable, public space, according to Katherine Darnstadt, a former director of AFH Chicago and current project manager of Activate!

“The competition was created to catalyze change in the way that people think of vacant spaces,” said Darnstadt, a 31-year-old West Loop Resident. “We had no idea where it was going to go when we held the first competition, which had more than 150 applicants from around the world.”

Activate!’s competition guidelines state that people worldwide of all ages and professions are eligible to submit designs for consideration. The designs must be durable for up to one year, fit into a budget of no more than $1,000 and be tailored to the target area of the competition.

Darnstadt said the debut of Activate! proved to be a success when members of the Little Village community raised more than $100,000 to transform the area of the winning design into a permanent community space, which she noted is the overall goal of the short-term installations.

“When a space starts to be cared for, it ripples throughout the community,” Darnstadt said.

For its fourth year this year, Activate! was able to propose four areas to be redesigned, a first for the competition that usually offers only one space, through a partnership with the Department of Transportation.

After researching the needs of the four communities, Darnstadt said a jury of design professionals and community leaders chose the best design for each area.

Of the 130 to 140 designs submitted, five designs were selected.

The Woodlawn site, at 62nd Street between Drexel and Ellis Avenue, had two winning designs called “Game On” by Meghan Funk and Kevin Pazik, and “Poetry on the Street” by Naoto Kumazawa.

Darnstadt said the designs fit the Woodlawn community’s need for an artistic space. The primary medium needed for the two designs is paint, an effective use of the funds available to the large area that spans for two city blocks, Darnstadt said.

“We deployed our favorite school-yard games and exercises onto the site as painted courts and zones, and then added a number of patterned and colored areas that allow users to adapt, speculate and invent new games and rules,” said Funk, a 29-year-old Logan Square resident. , and Pazik, , the creators of “Game On.”

Both graduates of the University of Illinois Chicago and trained in architecture, Funk and Pazik, a 21-year-old Niles resident, said the biggest challenge they encountered while composing their design was choosing the games to include in the final proposal.

The design of another Chicago-based duo residing in East Lakeview--Jameson Skaife, a 28-year-old landscape designer, and Eric Koffler, a 32-year-old architectural designer-- was chosen for the Pilsen space, near the intersection of Laflin Street and Blue Island Avenue.

The goal of “ReActuate” is to capitalize on the vibrancy of the thriving art community in the neighborhood, Skaife said.

“What we didn’t want was for this to become a stagnant installation that had a grand introduction and then become something people just walk by instead of continually re-experience,” Koffler said.

Other Activate! 2013 winning designs include “look.listen.feel” by Kimberley Adamek and Daniel Sebaldt for East Garfield Park, and “Tie Me Down” by Nichole Tortorici, Marko Dumlija and Felicia Franzese for Old Town.

Darnstadt said all of the designs will be installed between July 25 and 28, and volunteers are needed.

More information on volunteer sign-up and the winning designs can be found on the Activate! website.

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