Architecture Students Recognized for Innovative Chinatown Market Design

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By Andrew Connor

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Every year, the American Institute of Architects Chicago Chapter holds the Chicago Award in Architecture student competition, which recognizes the talent of architecture students from the greater Chicago area. For the 2021 program, College of Architecture students Noah Donica (M.ARCH. Candidate) and Zhiqiang Shi (M.ARCH. Candidate) were awarded second place for their design of a marketplace complex in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood. The design was originally created for a spring semester studio project working with faculty member James Baird.

Donica and Shi’s project, titled “Laminations: Chinatown Market,” aims to create a pathway between two sections of Chinatown bifurcated by Cermak Road. North of Cermak is “New Chinatown,” which consists mainly of the large shopping complex of Chinatown Square—built in 1993—along Archer Avenue; condos, townhomes, and single-family houses; and Ping Tom Memorial Park. To the south of Cermak sits “Old Chinatown,” which was established in the early twentieth century as an enclave for Chinese Americans who were pushed out of the city’s downtown commercial district, the Loop. Further exacerbating that division is a large parking lot at Wentworth Avenue and Cermak, which serves as the site for the project. 

“The idea of connection between old and new Chinatown was one of our biggest priorities,” says Donica. “With trains coming through that area and the interstate dumping out at this intersection there’s the potential for it to be this big hub of activity that can serve as an entrance to the entire neighborhood.”

To bridge the divide between both sides of Chinatown, entrances to the marketplace are positioned to circulate foot traffic north and south, creating a pathway from old to new Chinatown and vice versa. From east to west, the building’s programming transitions from an outdoor plaza to temporary indoor/outdoor marketplaces, to an indoor food court, to permanent marketplace stalls, to, finally, a cooking school and greenhouse space. Underneath the building is a Chinese cultural museum, which can be viewed 24/7 through light wells that provide views from the plaza to the artifacts below. 

The proposal takes on a canopy structure, with large glass walls that can be opened to increase circulation and space—a consideration influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic—and transparent roof panels so that riders on the Red Line “L” platform running directly above the building can see into the space.

“We focused on what the market can do for the neighborhood. We wanted it to be for the neighborhood but also for people in other parts of Chicago to come to,” says Shi. “Making it so that the people on the train can see into the market, as well as the rest of Chinatown, we think will encourage them to visit.”

As second-place recipients, Donica and Shi received a $300 prize. The duo also received the Brothers Finfer Scholarship for “Laminations” at the College of Architecture’s 2021 Spring Awards program.

Additionally, several College of Architecture students received honorable mentions in the competition: Yiti ‘Alice’ Gao (M.ARCH. Candidate) and Albert Santoso (M.ARCH. Candidate) for their project “The Sieve: Uptown Chicago Apartments” (Instructors: David Brininstool and Andy Metter); Austin Bower (M.ARCH. Candidate), Spencer Goff (M.ARCH. Candidate), and Pengbo Liao (M.ARCH. Candidate) for “Open UpTown—Exploring Porosity” (Instructor: Tom Brock); and Rama Alsaid-Souliman (M.ARCH. Candidate), Bower, and Lauren Tudor (M.ARCH. Candidate) for “Under the Umbrella: Chinatown Market Hall” (Instructors: Brininstool and Metter).

Photo: A rendering of the project that Noah Donica (M.ARCH. Candidate) and Zhiqiang Shi (M.ARCH. Candidate) were awarded second place for in the American Institute of Architects Chicago Chapter’s Chicago Award in Architecture student competition, a design of a marketplace complex in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood (provided)