The Available City


The Available City © David Brown


Project by David Brown


The Available City is an ongoing exploration of the City of Chicago’s ownership of 13,000 vacant lots as an opportunity to impact an area twice the size of the Loop through the lot—the smallest increment of the city grid. Considering the city-owned lots as a set, The Available City proposes a publicly accessible collective space system in which each city-owned lot has potential as a surface element—a softscape, hardscape, or small building by a local nonprofit organization or the city—in that system, while those adjacent to privately owned vacant lots have additional potential to provide volumes of collective space within buildings on 2–5 lots. Those buildings receive more footprint and square footage allowances than zoning permits through the provision of publicly accessible volumes of collective space within the building with a surface area that equals, if not exceeds, the area of the city lots. The Available City is thus an urban proposition comprised of up to 13,000 local effects.

Each collective space within The Available City—designed to be flexible, nonhierarchical, incremental, open ended, and variable in outcome—is independently complete and viable, yet gains in impact as instances of collective space increase and entwine. With components and provisions that enable multiple interests and scales—resident, developer, neighborhood, ward, and city—to address various concerns and needs, The Available City solicits wide participation in speculation of what this new collective space—and consequently the neighborhoods and wards in which the city-owned lots are most prevalent—could be.


Chicago City-Owned and Surrounding Privately Owned Vacant Lots




Aggregate Size



Variable Lot Potentials




Intensive development of surfaces or four story or less buildings, on combinations of city and private land, creates a set of collective spaces equal in size to the Loop.






Intensive development of buildings above five stories provides a set of collective spaces greater than the size of the Loop.






Spaces and Chambers




Click here for larger view



A periodic table of prompts—moving from aspects of form, across qualities and characteristics, to program and activity—to enable individuals and groups to think expansively about the opportunities and associations available within up to 13,000 surfaces and volumes of collective space.


Shape and Pattern Play

Organizations of a selection of prompts for Collective Space Surfaces and Chambers.



Quilt 1 (left) and Quilt 2 (right) © David Brown



Boat Tangram (left) and Duck Tangram (right) © David Brown


Softscapes, hardscapes and small buildings provide a collective space conditioned by the work activity or opportunities introduced by the form accommodating that activity. Each should include a small workspace if the primary activity does not provide such space.


Surface Types: Softscapes




Surface Types: Hardscapes




Surface Types: Buildings






Fence structures or other elements that block entry onto a lot. They are not unlike the bollards the city uses. However, they are more sculptural and might provide activities along the street and alley edges or provide side spaces for the adjacent neighbors.


Surface Types: Fills




Distributed surfaces work in conjunction with others to operate as a dispersed network for activities such as farming, water detention, or power generation.


Surface Types: Distributed




4 Stories and Below: L Building (Column 1 and 2)
Studies of the form to shape the collective space.

4 Stories and Below: Modular (Column 3 and 4)
Studies of modular components to form collective space.




4 Stories and Below: Surface Variations
Studies of the influence of the collective space on the siting of a building form.




4 Stories and Above: Form Implications of the Collective Space Volume Rules





Chambers (Column 1 and 2)
Ready-made collective space volumes that can be used in an additive approach to designing the collective space within a building.

Chamber-Based Building Studies (Column 3 and 4)




4 Stories and Above: Possible Massings for All City+Private Combinations












Switch-a-Shape © David Schalliol


Cady Chintis, Matt Van Der Ploeg, and Christina Stamatoukos.

General Design Proposition and Design Development
Jared Macken and Lyndsay Pepple.

Design Development
George Louras, Jared Macken, Cole Monaghan, Ji Noh, Tafhim Rahman, Matthew Schneider, and Jenna Wolf.

Scapes and Chambers
Collaboration with Dept US (Adrianne Joergensen, Jason Mould, and Meghan Funk).

2012 Venice Architecture Biennale
Jacob Comerci, Nicholas Krause, George Louras, Cole Monaghan, Roy Mwale, Lyndsay Pepple, Tafhim Rahman, Mark Rowntree, Julia Sedlock, and Jenna Wolf.

2d—Matthew Schneider,3d—David Ramis.

Chicago Architecture Biennial
Stephen Adzemovic, Caroline Grebner, David Ramis, and Samra Qasim.


David Brown’s current design research, writing, and teaching explore process-oriented approaches to urban design and the city. Brown is author of Noise Orders: Jazz, Improvisation, and Architecture (University of Minnesota Press, 2006), a study of the design implications of structures that facilitate improvisation in jazz, and co-edited Row: Trajectories Through the Shotgun House (Architecture at Rice, 2004). He is associate professor and the associate director at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Architecture.

Share 'The Available City' on Delicious Share 'The Available City' on Digg Share 'The Available City' on Facebook Share 'The Available City' on Google+ Share 'The Available City' on LinkedIn Share 'The Available City' on Pinterest Share 'The Available City' on reddit Share 'The Available City' on StumbleUpon Share 'The Available City' on Twitter Share 'The Available City' on Add to Bookmarks Share 'The Available City' on Email Share 'The Available City' on Print Friendly