Merchandise Mart - Reimagined
The Merchandise Mart is a massive presence in Chicago, not only for its size (which is literally massive) but also its cultural significance. It is the epicenter of design for the city, housing many of the top furniture and architectural product showrooms, and acting as a one-stop-shop for designers and innovators. While its design offerings may be enticing, its sheer girth is not so approachable. It may sound like a bad "your momma" joke, but the Mart is such a behemoth, it sported ITS OWN ZIP CODE up until 2008. For real.
In 2010, the Mart opened its showrooms to the public, rolling out the symbolic welcome mat. In the past several years, more design initiatives have been implemented to make the Mart more accessible, but its exterior has remained as stoic as ever.
A quick one-day charette (hosted by my employer A+I, who has spearheaded the design initiative with Mart owners, Vornado, to bring collaborative and public-facing presence to the landmark) looked to bring the same approachability to its art deco exterior.
The first concept looks to make the Mart a platform for the public with a temporary tower made of scaffolding and stretched fabric. The mass would act as a beacon, visible along the stretch of the Chicago River, offering views that aren't typically accessible to the general public.
The second concept looks at highlighting the pedestrians' movements on a city scale. Motion trackers at the street level would mark the pedestrian's walk along the building's facade with corresponding floodlights. Each person's interaction with the giant (yet comparably low-story) building would create skyscrapers of light, symbolically representing the importance of both the user and the Mart in a city known for verticality.