Design competition generates shelter concepts with potential to inspire future development
[Clarendon Hills, IL] – Dan Ungerleider, Clarendon Hills Community Development Director, sees an opportunity every time he drives by the Burlington Avenue commuter shelter near the Metra train station.
The small structure was built to protect waiting rail passengers from inclement weather. Over the years, however, the growing population of bicycle commuters, whether they’re headed to work or to a Cubs game, have adopted it as a storage area. At any given time, 10 to 30 bicycles are crammed into the unsightly structure.
“When it rains or snows, it’s hard for people to squeeze in there with all those bikes,” said Ungerleider. “We need a structure that both shelters commuters and stores bikes in a more orderly fashion.”
Ungerleider and Legat Architects’ Robin Randall, also a Clarendon Hills resident, saw an opportunity with Legat’s summer Think Tank, an annual event that brings together design industry thought leaders in Chicago. This year’s event included a design competition for a new Clarendon Hills bike shelter. The challenge was to design an attractive shelter, but also to make it sustainable, since the theme of the conference was biophilic design (i.e., integrating nature into the built environment).
Five designers at Legat took the bait and, after learning more about the village’s needs, created their own visions for a new sustainable bike shelter. A jury including Ungerleider and Think Tank speakers judged the entries. The co-winners that emerged were Catherine Varnas and Evan Menk.
Ungerleider said, “Catherine’s was a clean, beautiful conceptual design with a natural appearance, while Evan’s showed a lot of detail about function and how the shelter worked with its surroundings. The best solution is a merger of the two concepts.”
He sees the shelter as a first step in achieving the village’s larger access improvement and streetscape enhancement plan. Additional components of the long-term plan include a new commuter shelter, a “kiss-and-ride” drop-off area, and stormwater detention improvements.
Ungerleider will meet with Varnas and Menk to take steps toward a unified design, which he will then present to the Clarendon Hills Village Board and Downtown Design Review Commission. He hopes to make the shelter a reality within the next couple of years.
A Ride through the Prairie – Catherine Varnas
Catherine Varnas was riding her bike on a prairie path when she was struck with inspiration for her competition entry.
“I wanted my concept to capture the color and liveliness of the Illinois prairie,” said Varnas, “It’s an abstraction of the prairie and one’s journey through it.”
Her concept merges two layers of glass with shifting colors, an interpretation of moving through a prairie. The shelter transitions from darker colors at the base to lighter colors at the top, a strategy Varnas picked up during a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in Chicago.
Varnas also incorporated biophilic design concepts discussed at the Think Tank. For instance, she created a series of small, intimate spaces with benches where can people can take a moment to rest. It comes from the “savanna hypothesis,” which asserts that humans are naturally drawn to such places of refuge.
Ungerleider said, “I see elements of Catherine’s design that could carry over to other projects in our community, whether they be a commuter shelter, train station, or village hall.”
Simple and Community-focused – Evan Menk
Evan Menk didn’t have any kind of aha moment that launched his design concept. Rather, he gradually built up a vision of a park-like setting with an orderly shelter at its core.
Menk said, “I wanted to keep the design simple and get the community involved as much as possible.”
He used an unadorned steel frame to define the shelter, and actually brought a winding bike path through part of the sheltered area.
Menk also applied biophilic design principles: rainwater runs down the shelter’s clear corrugated plastic roof, then into the open parts of the I-beams that support the structure. Because the I-beams are slightly titled, they double as gutters. The water runs down them, then falls out the end to water plantings around the shelter.
- Mitch Beck used recycled railroad ties to create his shelter, which features an outdoor presentation space.
- Steve Blye’s whimsical entry offers a cornucopia of sustainable strategies and just as many chuckles.
- Loren Johnson’s concept is a “civic lantern” that announces Clarendon Hills to residents and visitors arriving via Metra rail. It includes a tool library for cyclists to adjust their equipment.
- Evan Menk’s concept.
- Catherine Varnas’s concept.
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