The High Life


The High Life © David Schalliol


Project by SOM and CAMESgibson


The High Life is a proposal for novel domestic arrangements made possible by a new residential high-rise building type that allows the broadest range of housing options in the urban tower. Seeking to indirectly address some of the pressing problems of urban life in Chicago’s neighborhoods, this alternative building type is born from three bold ideas:

1. A Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zoning initiative within 900’ of all CTA and Metra stations in under-developed neighborhoods allows building heights of 450’ and unlimited floor area ratio (FAR) when unit price points are guaranteed to be representative of wealth distribution of the city as a whole.

2. A small footprint “tree trunk” structure can allow for a flexible and inclusive range of housing types and lifestyles. Anything from micro apartments to the single-family house can be accommodated in a vertical aggregation of idealized and personalized dwellings at the density of the city.

3. The tower’s systems and innovative structure are a neighborhood chassis that turns the building core into a new vertical public domain with privately owned cantilevered trays. This arrangement would operate the same way streets and city blocks are constructed with speculative lots being sold to individuals to do as they please (within the rules of the codes).

The range of flexibility and architectural character that this building type could assume is apparent in this presentation. The model offers a gracefully minimal version that allows the essential building principals to be understood through the tower’s composition of an additive manufactured compression core, outriggers, and self-actuating tension members with trays for idealized homes and gardens. Meanwhile, the drawing of a number of towers eludes to the proposal’s acceptance of a somewhat haphazard diversity and potential vitality common to socially and economically resilient neighborhoods.




























Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
Brian Lee, Bill Baker, Andrew Obendorf, Benton Johnson, Anthony Dombrowski, and Jacob Gay.

Grant Gibson, Aura Venckunaite, and Drew Stanley.


Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) is one of the world’s leading architecture, engineering, urban planning, and interior design firms. Founded in Chicago nearly eighty years ago, the firm has completed more than 10,000 projects across fifty countries. The portfolio includes some of the most important design accomplishments of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, ranging from the plan of Chicago’s Millennium Park and London’s Canary Wharf, to civic structures such as the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., to towers including Chicago’s John Hancock Center and Willis Tower, New York’s One World Trade Center, and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. | @SOM_Design

CAMESgibson is an architecture and design practice based in Chicago. Founded in 2009 by Grant Gibson and the fictitious T.E. Cames, the firm produces critical work that blends modern enthusiasm and postmodern irony. Grant Gibson is clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture. | @CAMESgibson

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