Danish Arts Foundation

Soil Lab is the winner of an Open Call hosted by the Danish Arts Foundation in collaboration with the Chicago Architecture Biennial for a major new commission in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. Soil Lab will include workshops and built elements grounded in bricks, a material with significance to both the Chicago and the Danish architectural vernacular. The commission reflects the DAF’s mission to highlight Danish architecture and design traditions on a global platform while also facilitating conversations about the role of the arts and design in shaping communities. The project also emphasizes global collaboration—between cultures, between disciplines, and between the winning design team and the local community in Chicago. 

The 2021 commission is the second time the DAF has invited Danish creatives, and creatives with close ties to the Danish architecture and design field, to propose a site-specific project for Chicago. During the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial, Cabbage Patch—an installation of 10,000 cabbages developed by Danish artist duo Gamborg/Magnussen—was sited at the Garfield Park Conservatory. This year’s commission directly responds to CAB’s 2021 edition theme The Available City, led by Artistic Director David Brown. Conceived of as an urban design approach rooted in community engagement, The Available City brings together local and international design thinkers with community stakeholders, residents, and students to chart new, impactful uses for design and architecture that respond to the reality of the existing city fabric. The DAF commission enacts this methodology on a global scale, enabling a close collaboration between an international design team and Chicago residents.

The Soil Lab project involves two main efforts: the making of structures out of bricks, rammed earth, and ceramic tiles; and the construction of spaces for communal gathering. Soil Lab is inspired by the work of Jens Jensen—a Danish-American landscape architect whose work can be seen throughout several of Chicago’s major parks—who believed in the importance of reconnecting with oneself and one’s community through engaging with nature and natural materials. Soil Lab suggests a special meeting between architecture, object, and the body as participants are invited to engage in the process of creating bricks, to slow down and consider the materiality of the spaces that we occupy. Various proposed built elements such as benches, tables, and a gallery wall made from brick encourage movement, interaction, pause, and conversation.

The Soil Lab team, made up of architects and designers based in Copenhagen and Dublin, will begin work this spring through a series of virtual conversations with local community groups in North Lawndale. Over the course of the next seven months, the final site design and implementation of the project will be shaped and rolled out with input from and in close collaboration with local residents and organizations. Soil Lab will be activated throughout the 2021 Biennial, which opens in September.

The DAF and CAB partnership looks to the collaborative methodology of The Available City to create a new, shared space with and for residents of North Lawndale. The new commission builds on an ongoing process of repurposing vacant lots into community assets across Chicago and in North Lawndale specifically: the project will be sited near the corner of 13th and Pulaski just down the street from a permaculture food forest run with students from the nearby CCA Academy and a site currently being developed by the Young Men’s Employment Network (YMEN).Three finalist projects received honorable mentions: Creative Community of North Lawndale: A Project of Mapping and Connecting – JAC Studios, Eve Fineman, Bridgette Buckley, Norman Teague Design Studios; The Communal Table – arki_lab in collaboration with and Alberte Nicoline Tranberg; and Movement in a Frame – Iben Jørgensen.