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  • A Softer Alternative to Chicago’s Concrete Shoreline

    soft vs hard copy


    Chicago has just proposed a new 6 acre extension to the shoreline park at Fullerton Avenue  complete with new concrete revetment.  Having recently combed the sand dunes of Indiana’s Lake Michigan shore, we wonder about softer shore styles they might have considered.  Surely concrete barricades aren’t the only strategy for interfacing  between land and water at the city’s edge … maybe we should be looking into a new go-to plan for how to deal with Chicago’s shoreline. 



    The majority of Chicago’s shoreline is far from natural.  During our city’s development, the shore line has been pushed back (out into the lake) again and again with new edges constructed and interior areas filled in with land more stable and buildable than the marshy area which was here when the area was settled.



    Cycling Sonoma and Designing Sustainable Wineries


    postcard map


    With news that Sonoma County intends to become the first 100% sustainable wine region in the world, it seems only fitting that we explore it by bike. moss visited the region to explore some of the current sustainable practices and taste some of the wine, of course. This sparked some thoughts about how design and layout of winery buildings (something curiously left off the Sonoma County plan) can further the mission.





    I first had to get our loaner bike for the day. Spoke Folk Cyclery is housed in a sweet Quanset hut just south of downtown Healdsburg, they set me up with a familiar Specialized road bike. Off to Dry Creek.



    What does it mean to be “From Chicago”?

    regional map copy


    Here at moss, we proudly label our creations as made in Chicago.  We support our city (and neighborhood) businesses, artists, events and activities. But are we “from Chicago”?  That’s a complicated question.



    The Ineluctable Pull of the City


    Young Matt, aged 12, lived in the West Suburbs of Chicagoland but dreamed of urban living.  He wrote away for a plan book of the downtown rental apartment stock.  He laid out his future existence in the center of the city, living in a “Convertible” – a studio apartment –  and attending IIT but his Chicago orientation was temporarily derailed by a scholarship offer from the New School in San Diego.   However, After five years of study and three years of pracitce (and a license) in architecture, he returned to the midwest and to the city he’d always planned to live in.  Here’s how he identifies:


    “As far as Chicagoness goes, I guess about three quarters.”


    Our office mascot, Bosco, is a transplant from So Cal.  But he’s here to stay.  He’s a Chicago cat now. And he still won’t take any of your shit.




    The Railroader Console: Out of the Workshop




    We’re tickled to share with you, our newest creation.


    Meet … (drumroll please) … the Railroader Console.  This latest fruit of the moss Furniture Division is an eclectic tribute to some of Chicago’s history.  Made (and inspired) right here in our home city, this piece could be right at home with you.  Click here to make it yours!



    wells-street-bridge_courtesy Postcard Roundup



    Less is More: the Joy (and difficulty) of Minimalist Living

    storage stuff

    The problem of “stuff” is an American universal and no one is really in position to criticize.  I’ve always had a lot of stuff; certainly I’ve had a lot more stuff than I need.


    I’ve dabbled in extreme minimalism while traveling over extended periods.  Most recently, in 2012 I shook up my life by quitting my job and putting all my belongings into a storage unit while I set off on an odyssey that bounced me from one US coast to the other, and then around the rim of the Mediterranean from from the Moroccan Rif and Spanish Andalusia to the Ionian coast of Turkey.


    Everything I needed fit in a backpack and shoulder bag.   I had minimal clothing – who cared if I wore the same three things all the time? A digital camera and a moleskin sketchbook and pair of micron pens recorded the world around me.  My smart phone  (permanently on airplane mode) was an instant library, travel guide and unending map.  My biggest space splurge was a half size pillow (turn any train seat into a bed).


    Did I want or need more “stuff” than this to make me happy?  Certainly not. 


    And yet my stuff wasn’t really gone.  It was waiting for me 11 months later, stacked neatly along one wall of a small storage unit in Barneveld, Wisconsin.  And when I got back to the state and re-settled in Chicago, it all came with me, filling a 10′ U-Haul truck to maximum Tetris-loaded capacity.


    The Humble Bike Rack: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly as found in Chicago’s North Side Neighborhods

    bike rack_u rack

    Warning: some sign posts are designed to be easily removed and so are NOT SECURE places to lock your bike.  Always check the base.


    The Humble Bike Rack: this under-appreciated piece of urban street furniture popped onto our radar again when Rogers Park announced its contest finalist for a new neighborhood bike rack design.  The winners are all arguably nice graphic signposts for the neighborhood and its features but … our reaction in the office was a resounding,


    “You can hardly lock your bike to that.”


    In fact, that problem was mentioned in the first of the comments on DNAinfo’s article on the four finalists by John Greenfield of Streetsblog, and followed up by every subsequent commenter.  Lets see if you agree …


    bike rack_rogers park


    Chicago’s People Spots are Here to Stay … Here’s Why



    What is a People Spot?


    Known in other cities as “Parklets,” People Spots are tiny public spaces adjacent to the sidewalk located in former parking spaces.  They generally take up two parking spaces (making room for dozens of people to congregate in designerly, green, and wheelchair-accessible splendor RIGHT IN THE STREET).


    People Spots are made possible by a program established by CDOT but are paid for by sponsoring business owners, not the city.  Chicago now has nine People Spots located in Andersenville, Lakeview, the Loop and Bronzeville.  The program is in its third year and the Metropolitan Planning Council (and Sam Schwartz Engineering) have just completed a study to see “how people are using them and to gauge their economic impact.”  What’s the verdict?


    Two Thumbs Up from Local Businesses


    Their report shows a resounding success; check out the whole write up at Metropolitan Planning Council’s website: metroplanning.org.   Here are the highlights of the report summed up in their own infographic.


    Chicago Building Types: the Courtyard Apartment

    courtyard front and back


    This post marks the official beginning of a new series of studies of classic Chicago Building Types.  Each city has its history of materials, wealth, population shifts and popularity, as well as its hopes and fears, written in its buildings.  We’ll be making a study of several of Chicago’s common building forms and how they came to fill the city around us.  


    THE COURTYARD APARTMENT: Chicago’s Low Rise Density Workhorse


    This quiet building form so common in Lakeview and other north side neighborhoods makes a private, livable and densely packed home for many Chicago residents, including myself.  The pair of images above (of my own building, in fact) illustrate the most important feature of the Courtyard building: the double access points from the court and from the back staircases.   This simple design move makes for exceptionally pleasant,  livable spaces.


    As Architectural Record put it in 1907, comparing Chicago’s apartments with New York’s:


    “On the whole, one gets the impression that the Western apartment houses are built in order to supply pleasant residences for people of some taste, whereas the New York apartment house is the victim from start to finish of conditions which force their tenants merely to take what they can get.”



    The courtyard form ensures that, regardless of who owned or built on the adjacent properties, this assembly of units will always have a little patch of green space in their tiny interior court.  What’s more they all have access (both to airflow and view and for physical exits) to both the interior court side of the building and the exterior with its tiny porch/fire stair exits.




    If you’re not an apartment dweller you may never have given much thought to what sets these courtyard buildings apart from other types of apartment dwellings.  The answer is in the organization.


    courtyard crossvent


    Multiple Core vs Double Loaded Corridor 

    Unlike  more modern apartment block in which each unit on a floor is connected to a long hallway that has two (or three) vertical access points by elevator or fire-stair, these courtyard apartments aren’t connected horizontally to the other units on their floor but only vertically by a front entry stair and a back porch stair to the five other units on their stack.



    Come visit moss HQ during Ravenswood ArtWalk 2014

    ravenswood art walk

    October 4th and 5th mark a return to one of our favorite events of the year – the Ravenswood ArtWalk.  Moss will throw open its [garage] door to everyone who wants to peek inside our work space at the corner of Byron and Ravenswood and appreciate the work of the two artists we’ll be hosting: Cape Horn Illustration, and The Studio 312.


    If you missed us at City Made last weekend, or if you want to see our home base,  the Art Walk is a great opportunity to come visit the Moss HQ and see where all the magic happens!  The Ravenswood ArtWalk features both the neighborhood and local artists – giving the local community a chance to meet its neighbors and view some beautiful art works.  Find a full list of participants in the ArtWalk here.


    Ravenswood ArtWalk

    Saturday Oct 4, 2014, 11am – 7pm
    Sunday Oct 5, 2014, 11am – 6pm


    The opening reception is Friday, Oct 3, 7:30 PM to 10:30 PM at the Ravenswood Event Center ($10 donation).  Don’t miss the ArtWalk Detour on Saturday, on Ravenswood between Berteau and Belle Plaine where (for a $5 suggested donation) you can enjoy live music, a craft beer garden, a children’s corner and an array of food truck fare.  The Detour will be Saturday only from noon ’till 9:00PM



    A Tale of Two Cities: Sharing the Road in Amsterdam and Istanbul

    While the idea of an official “Shared Street” may be new and somewhat unsettling to Chicagoans today, the idea is anything but new or untested.  We only need to look back to the pre-car dominated city to see how the streets used to be much more public territory than they are today.  The image below of street-car era Elston Ave shows how thoroughly used a street here in the city once was.


    old chicago street


    That streetscape is a little intimidatingly crowded and chaotic.  People at the time certainly thought so.  As the car became increasingly prominent on the street (and began to travel faster than people could walk) it began to be dangerous to allow people the freedom to cross streets as they pleased.   Cities began to regulate where and when people could cross traffic, prioritizing cars over pedestrians as the easiest way to prevent major injury.   Check out this Gizmodo article on the history of Jaywalking for more.


    Do Our Streets Need to Be Separated for Safety?


    Gradually our urban streets became rigidly divided into places for people and places for people-in-cars.  Most of our concepts of pleasant and safe urban planning incorporate ways to further separate people and cars – pedestrian boulevards or wide sidewalks guarded by decorative bollards, street trees and parked cars.  But that is far from the only modern solution to the problem of how cars and people can use the same street system.  As Paolo Ikezoe of the Regional Plan Association points out, traveling home to his native Tokyo from New York made it clear to him that an urban pedestrian environment could thrive under un-segregated conditions as long as all the people involved (in cars and out of them) were prepared to negotiate the streets safely.



    Uptown’s Proposed Shared Street at Argyle: How ADDING Uncertainty Can Make Our Side Streets Safer

    shared street


    Anticipating City Made festival this weekend, when Andersenville will turn Clark between Argyle and  into an open air market and street party for two days has us wishing that some of our city’s streets could always be a little more integrated.  Anyone who’s ever attended a block party or recalls a childhood game of kickball knows the illicit thrill of being standing around in the middle of car territory.


    Chicago’s Brings Shared Streets to Uptown

    Much to our delight, the lines between “car space” and “people space” are going to be permanently blurred in Uptown soon, as plans go forward to turn Argyle (between Broadway and Sheridan) into a Shared Street.  Implementing the design will begin next spring.  Curbs will be removed, the area re-paved in brick and people will be encouraged to walk, stand and sit in the former car zone of the street.  Why is this a good idea?  Why would the city be shelling out $3 million to take away all the those nice safe distinctions?



    Come See us at City Made!

    Were you just tapping your toes, looking for an opportunity to come down and meet the moss team? Well here’s your opportunity. We’ll be showing some of our lovely faces (as well as displaying some of our furniture) at the City Made festival this weekend.


    CityMade-Email Image

    CityMade-with map


    Moss Will Be At the 2nd Annual Andersenville City Made Fest This Weekend


    The festival hours are:

    Saturday, September 20th and Sunday, September 21st

    from noon until 9PM

    Clark Street between Argyle Ave & Carmen Ave


    Moss will only be sticking around our booth until beer o’clock (that is, 6PM when most of the visitors are so happily inebriated that they aren’t interested in architecture anymore).


    The event is open to the public (suggested donation $5 at the gate).


    We’ll be showing a selection of our fine furniture made in Chicago from reclaimed materials. We will personally be on hand to answer questions, talk about design and enthuse about our neighborhood’s fine features.


    furniture for citymade


    Find out more about the whole City Made Festival here. Although City Made IS a local beer festival it isn’t ONLY a beer event! We hope you’ll visit other purveyors of local crafts and objects besides ourselves. Here’s a full list of the City Made vendors for 2014!


    Another One Bites the Dust: the Tiny Tragedy of Teardowns in Chicago Neighborhoods

    tear down

    Walking to work this morning I noted yet another pile of construction debris on the foundation of a former house just around the corner from moss HQ.


    Seeing an old house demolished always seems like a small tragedy. It’s true; some older buildings certainly HAVE outlived their useful lifespan, are in poor repair or structurally unsound.  Sometimes the change in a neighborhood’s needs calls for higher density – a 6-unit building instead of a single family home.  But still, our take at moss is that you should always think carefully before you knock a building down.



    The Great Strip Mall Debate: There Really Are Pros and Cons, But Chicago Doesn’t Need Any New Ones

    strip mall


    The strip mall question has re-emerged in Chicago news feeds in response to Alderman John Arena (45th) who wants to ban any new strip mall construction in the Jefferson Park business district.


    So the question re-emerges.  Are Strip malls a miracle of convenience or a blight on the urban landscape.  One thing is certain – they are A LOT of parking area.  Arena asking the City Council to designate a zoning overlay district requiring that new commercial buildings be adjacent to the street, have street facing windows and push any parking to the rear.  In other words, he’s banning strip malls.  DNAinfo has been following the idea as it develops.  Arena is quoted supporting his proposal,


    “The purpose of the designation is to protect the existing, pedestrian-friendly shopping district we have in downtown Jefferson Park,”


    Colleen Murphy a pro-strip mall resident counters,


    “A strip mall is better. You can pull in and find a spot and find what you need and go on your way.”


    That convenient access IS indeed the point of this staple of the car culture.  Strip malls were created to support a car centric way of life and emerged in the same time period as the newly ubiquitous american automobile.



    More than a Rubber Stamp: a Guide to Green Building Certification Programs

    rubber stamp

    Most, if not all, of our clients come to us looking for a strong ethic of sustainability to underpin their project, so dealing with green certifications is often of interest.   Some of them are far more relavant to our clients than others.  Here is a rundown of some of the important green certifications you might encounter in your green building project.