< terug

Once upon a Time in Chicago

“Once upon a Time in Chicago”
– Re-imagining Communal Spaces along its River

Supervisor prof. Martine De Maeseneer
Campus Brussels, Ghent
Language English
Studio or individual? Studio, with individual Thesis Projects
10-15 students max.


“Architecture remains one of the rare expressions in everyday life that provides a continuous experience of those other worlds and their distinct forms of organization and value, and simultaneously lays claim on a future that architecture’s particular techniques of projection allow. Architecture is a plastic practice, exactly positioned to enact alternatives: to produce holes in the world, stage breakouts, and release the virtuality captured in the real. The world “as it is” never constitutes a sufficient condition for architecture. And if you propose to “do” architecture – whether producing it, exhibiting it, or writing about it – that should not go without saying.“

from “Easier Done Than Said” by The Cameo, in Flat Out, fall 2016

A Performative Architecture Studio

“Once upon a Time in Chicago”

Re-imagining Communal Spaces along its River

As a very centralised city benefitting from production and distribution in past and present, its renown grid was offering Chicago a most flexible means to develop and grow. Now at its licentious accretion it is ready for transition into a place for ideas and knowledge, for creativity and wit. From its position at the Michigan lake it is still an utmost important city to connect the US to the world, and it is now more than mature enough to become a world in itself: to digest, translate, transform, and transcend all the surrounding and imposed energies, with a specific focus on the development of new communal spaces on the former industrial sites along the Chicago River.

This time there is no need to pioneer on tabula rasa or to push to another frontier. Now we can start with existing qualities, identifying them, highlighting them, dramatising them and, by doing so, begin a new practice of social and urban renewal, towards new futures.

A future that perhaps makes Chicago into a place that gives people a reason to stay and grow old.

The studio confronts the relation between architecture and the city, wagering on architecture’s capacity to condense and project alternative configurations of metropolitan life.

Where most housing schemes are developed most of the time inside-out (generalising the particular), the studio inversely advances from the outside-in (spectating the background). It presumes that only through the alchemy of various constraints — historical, programmatic, material, legal, contextual, tectonic, and so on —- can new freedoms potentially emerge. We maintain that in linking the formal and political, architecture can contribute to the production of other worlds, but only to the extent that it remains relentlessly attentive to its own discipline and techniques. It is a mistake, in other words, to presume that the abstractions of architecture are not “real”. In fact, they provide the only means through with other realities become conceivable. The studio will work through several such disciplinary conventions, including (but not limited to) : manipulating the presumed priorities between plan and section, short-circuiting the programmatic gradient from publicity to privacy, and extending the visual-material resolution of the elevation as a dimension of interior as wel as exterior performance.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, ti was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way …” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

For the purposes of our investigation on the transactions between architecture and the city, we will explore the possibilities offered by the proposal for new communal spaces along the Chicago River starting from the original ‘Arts Club’ concept.

A sister institution to the original Ars Club in London (co-founded by Charles Dickens in 1863), the LA version (led by Gwyneth Paltrow, founder of the wellness and lifestyle brand “goop”) consist of a mixed program for office (creative shared space), residential (club guest rooms), entertainment (restaurants, bars, screening rooms), recreation (spa, gym, pool), culture (gallery, library, screening rooms), retail, landscape (terraces and gardens), parking, and various lobbies to accommodate the diversity of public guests, office renters, and private members. Through scale and heterogeneity, architecture becomes a trojan horse for urban design.

The site of the Chicago river banks and program for this proposal will allow us to re-mix the popular and exclusive, to see how it might be possible to leverage the private for the sake of different publics, for, in Chicago as elsewhere, and as famously noted by Charles Moore, “you have to pay for the public life”. In re-imagining an Arts Club for the future, we will have occasion to graft it to other historical instances of collective association : Roman baths, Masonic lodges and houses of libertinage from the Enlightenment, Constructivist Worker’s Clubs for he early Soviet Union, north European Houses for the People, North American Athletic Clubs from the late 19th and early 20th century, and other cultural and recreational structures built throughout South America from the 1970s onward.

A variety of cases studies guarantee a critical and open discussion of the general theme and the produced outcomes.

The studio and research will be developed in collaboration with the team of Robert Somol, legendary former director of the School of Architecture UIC Chicago. UIC will host the students during the Nov2024 visit- http://arch.uic.edu.

the performative architecture studio – strategy & framework

Since the end of the 19th century, the beginning of the 20th century the idea has gradually grown that forms -no longer- come forth out of a ‘mental back-up’ which is inherited since immemorial times, which was thought to be vital for us – enabling us to speak, to see and to produce. The scenario that has come in its place is where these ‘forms’ have fled along our body, into the open space, into thin air.

As a result one can also understand how the western fascination for pure geometry descended over projective geometry to topology, fluidums, networks. In philosophy one calls that the downpour of platonic solids. It’s a movement that one can witness, happening in the last century. It’s a movement wherefrom generations of modern architects could not escape.

But nevertheless the picture still stands of this carrier space, a canvas, an envelope, a kind of background noise at the very least that works further behind or below the visible and reality. Sui Generi ‘diagrams’, which is the word which was very much in vogue in the second half of the nineties, work at the same time more autonomous and more generalizing.

For the architect/student it is paramount to chase these forms down, to get grip of them if one wants to know in which direction architecture is moving, as well as on a transpatial or spatial local level.

The studio focused on a continuously search for a broader field of ‘patterns’, ‘motives’, ‘logos’, ‘plots’ and ‘timbres’. — Words with an architectural resonance – which are an expression of a social, cultural an political involvement and expertise at large. This kind of (in)directness works.

This kind of architecture will demonstrate itself to us as it will jump from the classical adagio of likelihood (‘to like or not’ …) to an architecture where behaviour stands central (‘to behave or not’ …). Think then in the given context about the iteration ‘to click or not’ …, whereby texts, words, characters become functions in a sort of digital acrostics: just, avoid to stick them together with images in a glossy picturesque of branding of a city.

Former ‘Performative Architecture’ studio work for the city of Chicago can be found here :


Any questions, please feel free to email me : martine.demaeseneer@kuleuven.be

Website MDMA l Martine De Maeseneer Architects : www.mdma.be

Associated website, current international research initiative the promotor is engaged in: https://www.ro3kvit.com/

program: timing, organization and expected output

The studio recrutes students from both the Ghent and Brussels campuses.

The studio places a high emphasis on using drawings and models not as illustrative methods but as design and research tools that test, evolve and resolve ideas in a rigorous manner. The studio demands a very high engagement from each student to challenge their established working methods and to embrace, often unfamiliar ways of working. The study of key theoretical texts, precedents and theories as well as research into cross-disciplinary fields forms the basis for critical reflection and is key for the formation of a coherent theoretical framework and contextualised position. Research will accompany the thesis project throughout (not just at “the start”). Process driven work and enquiry will form an integral part of the thesis project. The intellectual decision-making process as well as the investigative design development will be on-going throughout the thesis project. For further guidelines, please ensure that you read and understand the Master Dissertation Guidelines.

timing and organization, including study trip in week7 (first week nov. 2024) to Chicago

Key dates

studio hours Brussels & Ghent : Tuesdays 10h-13h & 14h-18h00

semester 3, Week 0: announcement of frameworks by academic promotors
semester 3, Week 7: in situ research week in Chicago nov 2024 in collaboration with The School of Architecture UIC http://arch.uic.edu.
semester 3, Weeks 10, 11, 12 and 14: research and design sessions (half day a week)
semester 4, Week 1- : presentations by each student of initial outcomes: results relevant case studies, literature review, data mining, context and territory analysis, concept and thematical approach and first proposal for architectural intervention

semester 4, Week 2: urban strategy and linked architectural intervention

semester 4, Week 3: urban strategy and linked architectural intervention
semester 4, Week 4: urban strategy and linked architectural intervention
semester 4, Week 5: development of architectural intervention

semester 4, Week 6 : midterm presentation (internal jury)
semester 4, Week 7 : TABLES Midterm Clash Review – working sessions –
semester 4, Week 8 : development of architectural intervention – The (eventual) Section Day is scheduled in Brussels on April xth, and in Ghent on April xth, right after Easter break.
semester 4, Week 9: development of architectural intervention
semester 4, Week 10: development of architectural intervention
semester 4, Week 11: development of architectural intervention
semester 4, Week 12 : delivery draft reflection paper
semester 4, Week 13: architectural intervention and review urban strategy

semester 4, Week 14 : pre-jury (intern)
semester 4, Week 15: final development of architectural intervention
semester 4, Week 16: final development of architectural intervention, presentation

semester 4, Week 17 – Wedn June x Gnt – Thurs June x Brsls : final jury (extern)

study material

Main Theme

Martine De Maeseneer (2002), ʻBack Home – a personal noteʼ in ʻPoetics of Spaceʼ, edited by Leon van Schaik. London : ‘Architectural Design’, Academy editions.


Moore, Charles. “You have to Pay for the Public Life”. 1966

Robert Somol ‘the inventor’ (2016) “Cartoon Plan’, in Flat Out 1, Fall 2016, pp 3, 59-61 (on plan of Wynn/Encore hotel-casino)

Robert Somol (1999), ‘The Seduction of the Similar’, in Assemblage40, dec 1999, pp.69-79 (on WW’s Intracenter)

Robert Somol (1997) “Start Spreading the News”, in ANY21, 1997, pp.42-47 (on New York New York casino)

Robert Somol (1987) “…You Put Me in a Happy State”, The singularity of Power in Chicago’s Loop”, in Copyright 1, Fall 1987, pp.98-118 (on State of Illinois/Thompson Center)

‘Because’ – Martine De Maeseneer, lectures at UIC University of Illinois Chicago, USA – July2014 – summer school by Robert Somol


Aphasia and Utopia, – Martine De Maeseneer, lectures at the Faculty of Creative Industries, University of Saint Joseph, Macau, China – Febr13th – http://www.usj.edu.mo


Baudrillard, Jean “The Baubourg Effect: Implosion and Deterrence”, in October20, Spring 1982, pp 3-13 (On Pompidou Center)

Jameson, Fredric “Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”, 1991, pp.38-45 (on Bonaventure)

Koolhaas, Rem “Atlanta” (1987/94), in S,M,L,XL (1995), pp.833-859 (Portman and atrium type)

Koolhaas, Rem “Junkspace”, 2002

Pope, Albert “Ladders”, 1996, pp.101-147 (response to Jameson on Bonaventure)


Architectural Intelligence

Martine De Maeseneer (1998) ‘Peripherie ist überall’, edited by Walter Prigge (Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau), Campus Verslag Frankfurt/New York.

Martine De Maeseneer (1996) ‘Rear Window’ in the book ‘The Architect – Reconstructing Her Practice’, edited by Francesca Hughes. MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts.

Martine De Maeseneer (1987) ‘How external planes become inside ones – chapel of Ronchamp’. Gent : Sint Lucas.

Robert Somol (2000), ‘Nothing matters’ in ANY: Architecture New York.

Robert Somol (1991) ‘Accidents will happen’ in A+U: Architecture and Urbanism no.9 (issue on Eisenman)

Robert Somol (1994) ‘Real Abstract’ in the Indivisible Space, ‘Martine De Maeseneer’ exhibition in Antwerp & in Assemblage (23).

Tom Verebes (2013) ‘Masterplanning the Adaptive City: Computational Urbanism in the Twenty-first Century’ , Routledge

Architectural theory

Leach Neil (1997) ‘Rethinking Architecture – a reader in cultural theory’. London, New York : Routledge.

Gaston Bachelard (1969), Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas. Boston : Beacon Presse.

Frederic Jameson (1981) The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, London: Methuen.

Foucault Michel (1977) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975), trans. Alan Sheridan, London: Penguin.

Spatial Morphology and sociology

Bill Hillier (1984) The social logic of Space. Cambridge Univ Press

Bill Hillier (1996) Space is the Machine. Cambridge Univ Press

Studio description as pdf.