CHICAGO - A cross-laminated timber structure has been built in Chicago, bringing that city it's first high profile application of the wood construction material being used in high rise wood building construction. The Chicago Horizon project, by Ultramoderne, a Rhode Island architectural practice, was created as part of a competition, and represents "a quest to create the largest wood roof possible," in the words of the team - architects Yasmin Vobis and Aaron Forrest and structural engineer Brett Schneider,  closely connected with the Rhode Island School of Design.

 Chicago Horizon won the BP Prize in the Chicago Lakefront Kiosk Competition for the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial, running in the city thorugh January 3. Support for both design and construction were provided by Nordic Structures, reThink Wood, and the Rhode Island School of Design.

The materials used in the pavilion are inexpensive structural grade wood and chain-link fencing. The roof is made from cross-laminated timber (CLT), a structural wood material that sequesters carbon in its fibers. "The roof alone more than offsets the emissions generated by all the other materials used in the project combined," say its designers, who describe the project here:

The design for the kiosk became a quest to create the largest wood roof possible—to demarcate a zone of the city for all to enjoy. Inspired by two Chicago prototypes—Mies van der Rohe’s experiments in flatness and the Eames’ explorations of scale in Powers of Ten—we designed a 56’ square open roof with the largest clear spans possible: a fusion of Miesian rationalism with an American improvisational jauntiness.

Design Collaborator: Brett Schneider
Project team: Will Gant, Hua Gao, Ronak Hingarh, Tida Osotsapa, Emily Yen
Material Supplier & Fabricator: Nordic Structures
Design Engineer: Brett Schneider, Guy Nordenson and Associates
Engineer of Record: Thornton Tomasetti
Architect of Record: Animate Architecture

Radical simplicity underlies a subtle and varied experience. The lateral reach of the roof recalibrates the experience of two extremes of the Chicago landscape: at ground level, the Lake Michigan horizon dominates, forming a line of symmetry between ground and canopy. From the viewing platform, the roof becomes a new artificial horizon, shutting out the foreground and emphasizing the vertical skyline above an abstract floating plane.

Rendering of the project depicts the LED lighting scheme.

Two programmatic volumes—a viewing platform and a vending kiosk—hang between the roof and the ground. Enclosed in chain link fencing used in tension, the volumes provide a subtle hierarchy within the otherwise open plan. Fin columns are distributed in a finely tuned radial pattern to respond to lateral loads and uplift; their orientation creates at once an intense focus on the space and activities central to the pavilion, as well as outwards towards the horizon.

At night, the chain link enclosures double as a lighting installation, attracting visitors to their mysterious glow. Each is outfitted with a plane of programmable LED lighting and glowing with a different color temperature: one warm (moonlight), one cool (daylight). The two pulsate in dialogue with each other throughout the night, alternating between the two poles of experience that the kiosk creates: floor and ceiling; day and night.


Team Ultramoderne is a collaboration between architects Yasmin Vobis and Aaron Forrest and structural engineer Brett Schneider.  Based in Providence, RI, and closely connected with the Rhode Island School of Design, the Ultramoderne team members bring together an extensive range of experience in architecture, design, and engineering at a broad range of scales.  The team looks to develop design ideas rooted in architectural effect and the technical specificity necessary to push these effects beyond convention. Vobis and Forrest, who together lead the architecture studio Ultramoderne, have recently completed projects with the Van Alen Institute and the Boston Society of Architects, and have extensive experience working for leading architects in San Francisco, New York, and Madrid. Brett Schneider is Senior Associate at Guy Nordenson and Associates Structural Engineers in New York, where he has led projects in collaboration with SANAA, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Johnston Marklee, and other leading practices across the globe

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