Friday, July 4, 2008

Zola’s 21st century green Chicago

Zoka Zola Architects + Urban Designers propose three to eight changes to the current Chicago Zoning Ordinance to make the city more environmentally friendly, energy efficient and affordable.

“It may take you a lifetime to see the plan come to life,” Zola’s friends would tell her when she was just starting on the plan.

Zola, award winning architect and lecturer with an international experience thought about this project when she moved to the United States in 1997.

“Why do this houses need side yards?” wondered Zola.

Puzzled with the question Zola took upon developing the plan of 21 Century Chicago. This project has very little to do with her main specialty as an architect. Still the temptation to see Chicagoans enjoy bright, warm, green houses was stronger than the conventional scope of her specialty.

When in 1904 Daniel Burnham and the Commercial Club of Chicago were planning the city among the issues they intended to solve were the growing population and the improvement of the city’s commercial well being.

After more then a century Chicago is facing different issues: environment preservation, further population growth, energy preservation, lack of architectural creativity in town house design. Most resent is the rise in gas prices which is going to affect our lifestyle.

Zola sees the solutions to modern life challenges through altering city’s planning regulations.

Zola envisions 21 century Chicago as green, bright, energy sufficient and architecturally various city.

Among the suggested changes are:
  • Green houses on top of garages
  • Yards with trees (new houses will have to have trees for the new tenants)
  • Brighter basements (with a floor no more than 2-6 ft below the ground) with an allowance to be used as separate residences
  • Front yards, on the other hand will be reduced to 10 ft.
  • Side yards will no longer be a must

The range of benefits these changes can bring is wide.


  • Chicagoans will lose less heat
  • The houses will be better lighted with natural light
  • This will lead to energy savings in summer and winter seasons
  • Houses will have better views
  • The city will have twice as many trees which mean fresher air

This plan will provide better fire safety and easier rat control

Ac According to Zola’s plan the units will be more affordable as a result of increase in the allowance of shallower basement units and parking spots per building. The City of Chicago can thus save substantial amounts of money and use if for affordable housing and further improvement of the city.
Edward Kus, former Executive Director of the Mayor’s Zoning Reform Commission sees Zola’s plan environmentally responsible. Despite of that Kus predicts a lot of resistance from both the developers and neighborhoods due to certain habits people are reluctant to give up.

This plan has a lot of benefits, but it is unrealistic,” said Kus.

When Kus was working on the amendments to the 1957 Chicago Zoning Ordinance his team met with neighborhood representatives, architects and developers to find out what the city needs were.

“C Chicagoans want side yards to have relative privacy. People want parking spaces, they do not want to park on the streets,” explained Kus who was the Zoning Administrator of the City of Chicago in 2001.

ZolZola's plan satisfies these needs with the availability of garages. Her plan foresees more flexibility on side yards thus giving the developers and inhabitants a choice between wider houses and side yard availability.

Zola’s studio-house is live example of her project. This self sustainable, ecological and aesthetic building is located on 1737 W. Ohio Street. Known as Pfanner house it represents the philosophy of openness to one another. Zola compares the openness of the space with healthy lungs where the breathing is pleasant and smooth.

Zola’s city plan has been presented to all possible instances from Chicago Mayer Dailey’s office to individual developers.

Thus far two individual clients have expressed interest in developing their project following Zola’s model. This precedent gives Zola a hope that little by little individual interest will grow into a future city zoning vision.


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