Soil Lab: A Collaboration with the 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.

Read the full release announcing the winning project here

“We are delighted to have been chosen to represent Denmark at the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial and are grateful to the jury for believing in our proposal. Soil Lab revolves around a workshop in North Lawndale where the community can come together to build from readily available materials: creating fired bricks and unfired rammed earth components through interaction and play. Our hope is that Soil Lab won't just be a meeting point during the Biennial, but that it will allow the community to build new meeting points around their neighborhood long after the event has ended.”–Soil Lab Team (Eibhlín Ní Chathasaigh, James Albert Martin, Maria Bruun and Anne Dorthe Vester)

Eibhlín Ní Chathasaigh (b. 1986), Architect MAA MRIAI
Eibhlín graduated from the Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark, in 2011. Since graduating she has worked for Atelier Peter Zumthor in Switzerland and Grafton Architects in Dublin, Ireland. In 2018, Eibhlín joined James and Anne Dorte in participating in the REFORM Design Biennale with their collaboration Woven Construct, constructed in the garden of Munkeruphus Center of Contemporary Art, in Zealand, Denmark. Eibhlín believes imagination is the central strength of architecture and is interested in the social act of architecture and design as a collaborative conversation. It is with great pleasure that, together with the people of North Lawndale and the Soil Lab team, she embarks on transforming a vacant lot in West Chicago into a new public space.

James Albert Martin (b. 1985), Architect MAA MRIAI
James is a registered architect with the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and Grade 3 Accredited in Architectural Conservation. He has taught at The Aarhus School of Architecture and at University College Dublin where he is currently a Design Fellow. James is interested in the act of making, and his work is informed by this collaborative act. James holds a MA from The Aarhus School of Architecture, and has also undertaken courses in joinery at Capellagården - school for craft and design. Since graduating he has worked with international studios; Sou Fujimoto Architects, Herzog & de Meuron, and Grafton Architects. In 2018, James, Eibhlín and Anne Dorte participated in REFORM Design Biennale with their collaboration Woven Construct, a seat, a screen, a space, which they constructed in the garden of Munkeruphus, north of Copenhagen.

Anne Dorthe (b. 1984), Architect MAA
Throughout her work, whether small or large scale, architect Anne Dorthe Vesters projects are based on the study of materials and the processing of these. The craft in itself is central to her understanding of materials. She is also part of the duo MBADV that works with objects in the cross-field between art, architecture and design. MBADV is a collaboration with furniture designer Maria Bruun. Anne Dorthe Vester holds a MA from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture and a BA from Aarhus School of Architecture. Additionally, she has taken courses in joinery at KTS (Copenhagen technical college) and at Capellagården - school for craft and design.

Maria Bruun (b.1984), Furniture Designer
With her work, the Danish designer Maria Bruun joins a long-standing design tradition. With sincere respect for classic Danish furniture, Bruun builds on this foundation with an innovative approach, creating her design in close dialogue with skilled craftspeople. She often devotes her work to the refinement of the individual elements and persistently seeks out new possibilities in her field. Bruun was appointed emerging talent 2019-2020 by the Danish Arts Foundation. This honorable appointment positions her as one of the most promising emerging designers in Denmark right now. She is a part of the duo MBADV that works with objects in the cross-field between art, architecture and design. MBADV is a collaboration with architect Anne Dorthe Vester. Maria Bruun holds a MA in furniture Design from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design.

Jury Members

The DAF Open Call received 22 submissions. Applications were assessed and a winner selected by a jury made up of members appointed by the Danish Arts Foundation and the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Anne Blond, Chair, Danish Arts Foundation Committee for Design and Craft

Ellen Braae, Chair, Danish Arts Foundation Committee for Architecture

David Brown, 2021 Artistic Director, Chicago Architecture Biennial 

Kathrin Susanna Gimmel, Committee Member, Danish Arts Foundation Committee for Architecture

Sarah Herda, Director, Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts

Chris-Annmarie Spencer, Principal, Wheeler Kearns Architects

Craig Stevenson, Visual Designer, Educator and Arts Advocate

Mads Quistgaard, Committee Member, Danish Arts Foundation Committee for Design and Craft

About the Danish Arts Foundation

The Danish Arts Foundation (DAF) is Denmark’s largest arts foundation. The DAF works to spread the arts to a wide audience all over Denmark, to promote Danish art internationally, and to pave the way for talented artists. The DAF supports creative thinking and innovative ideas by funding more than 6,000 artists and art projects every year.

Through more than 60 different funding programs, the DAF funds the production and promotion of the visual arts, film, literature, music, performing arts, architecture, crafts, and design—and all that transcends the borders of these art forms. The DAF’s 16 expert committees are responsible for awarding grants to both Danish and foreign art projects, based on the 12,500 applications that they receive every year from artists, institutions, schools, organizations, and companies.

The Danish Arts Foundation previously collaborated with the Chicago Architecture Biennial and the Chicago Park District in 2019 to support Cabbage Patch, an installation of 10,000 planted cabbages along with an outdoor kitchen and related programming at the Garfield Park Conservatory.