The Office for Urbanization was established at Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2015 to produce design research examining the influences and potentials of contemporary urbanization—from issues of sustainability to infrastructure—and to understand the role of data in decision-making relative to development. Their project Heliomorphic Chicago imagines the radical revision of Chicago’s Loop district through a design process that optimizes the solar performance of the existing tower buildings. Following a retroactive approach, the project presents a pair of counterfactual futures—two Chicagos that might have been. These alternative visions are modeled as three dimensional forms that result from specific parameters of a building that, on the one hand, allow maximum solar access to its surroundings and, the other, maximizes its own access to solar energy at the expense of those around. Unlocking these opposing pairs of alternative potentials in Chicago’s iconic buildings, Heliomorphic Chicago demonstrates the simple, yet intractable, opposition of zero-sum economies. Solar equity on one hand and solar energy on the other, this project allows us to rethink the possible social impact of development decisions around envelope and footprint, from the singular tower out to the city.
Charles Waldheim is a Canadian-American architect and urbanist. Waldheim’s research examines the relations between landscape, ecology, and contemporary urbanism. He is author, editor, or co-editor of numerous books on these subjects, and his writing has been published and translated internationally. Waldheim is John E. Irving Professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design where he directs the School’s Office for Urbanization. Waldheim is recipient of the Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy in Rome; the Visiting Scholar Research Fellowship at the Study Centre of the Canadian Centre for Architecture; the Cullinan Chair at Rice University; and the Sanders Fellowship at the University of Michigan.