A cabin, block modules and heated tables

Submissions were called, ideas were proposed, finalists were selected and now, winners for Chicago’s Winter Design Challenge have been announced.


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The competition aims to solve the problem of how to continue outdoor dining come colder weather, and netted more than 600 entries both serious and comical. (I’m still not over Leaf-blowers = win.) After two preliminary rounds of judging by the design firm IDEO and the city of Chicago, 26 finalistswere chosen and presented to a panel of judges made up of architects, designers, chefs, restaurateurs and servers, who picked the final three feasible and safe proposals. Each of them will take home a $5,000 cash prize.

The winners are:

Amy Young’s Cozy Cabins

Small, modular and adjoining cabins outfitted with radiant floor heating that fit in a standard street parking space. The idea, proposed by ASD 5/8 SKY based out of Atlanta and San Francisco, was inspired by ice fishing huts. The structures feature transparent windows to make “diners feel part of the community while safely social distancing from other diners.” Each cabin also has a vent near the ceiling for air circulation, and is constructed with simple materials, with furniture, walls and floors that can be cleaned between guests. The cabins are meant to be low cost, ADA-accessible and easily replicated to suit parking spaces throughout the city.

Neil Reindel’s Block Party

Takes a parking lane and converts it into outdoor seating block modules. Blocks can be arranged according to preference and even combined together — a single block module holds two people, with sizes increasing by two with each additional block. The blocks can also be painted and customized. A thermal mesh system heats the space and recessed can lights illuminate from the top of each block. Modules are not fully enclosed, but can be equipped with curtains. Reindel is an urban designer and planner and also an adjunct professor at Northwestern University.

Ellie Henderson’s Heated Tables

A modification of the Japanese kotatsu, a low table covered by a blanket that also has a small electric heater on its underside. An additional table top is placed on top of the blanket. This proposal was inspired by Henderson’s experiences in Japan. She is a Chicago-based graphics designer who specializes in designing three-dimensional spaces, mostly for trade shows, and environmental branding, and a self-described foodie. “The solution of having heated tables allows patrons to be safe and stay comfortably warm while still patronizing their favorite restaurants,” the proposal says, emphasizing that outdoor decks, rooftops, patios and parking spaces could be converted to use the heated tables.

IDEO, the design and consulting firm that hosted the entries on its website and partnered with the city for the competition, will work with the Illinois Restaurant Association to pick construction firms for “design development and technical refinement” on the winners before creating prototypes that can be tested. Pilot restaurants to participate in the testing of these solutions will be chosen by the Illinois Restaurant Association and construction will be paid by BMO Harris.

On top of revealing the winners of the Winter Design Challenge, the city also announced a $500,000 grant program in partnership with Door Dash and IRA, aimed at helping restaurants prepare for winter. Restaurants located in Chicago with three locations or less, 50 employees or less and $3 million in 2019 annual revenue or less, are eligible for a $5,000 grant. Applications open Oct. 16.

Whether restaurants decide to take up the winning solutions or not, they are still expected to abide by city guidelines. The city is also allowing temporary tents for the first time and extending tent permits from 60 days to 180 days. Restaurants do not need to apply for new sidewalk cafe or Expanded Outdoor Dining permits to operate in the winter, but permits should be updated with heating and structural elements.


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