No Small Plans

Archinect points us to local architect Zoka Zola's proposed reworking of the Chicago Zoning Ordinance for a 21st century plan of the city.

Zola focuses on the ubiquitous Chicago lot: 25' wide, 125' deep, with a street in the front and an alley in the back. Her thoughtful, well-researched and thorough recommendations include:
:: Responding to site orientation,
:: Eliminating side yards,
:: Reducing front yard setback and requiring larger landscaped rear yards,
:: Allowing greenhouses on top of garages (off of alley),
:: Raising the required basement depth.

Missing image - zola1.jpg

These recommendations are targeted towards reducing energy consumption, reducing heat loss, increasing air quality, and ultimately creating better living conditions in Chicago's neighborhoods.

Missing image - zola2.jpg

Zola frames her research and proposal within Daniel "make no small plans" Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago and the Commercial Club of Chicago's Metropolis 2020 Plan. Even though she admits that her plan isn't as broad as these, I think its impact could be just as great if enacted. In the meantime, her firm is working with the city on a pilot project on ten city lots. They are also looking for grants for further research and for developers interested in their plans.


  1. When I get to be an architect, this is exactly what I want to do- stuff like this.

  2. dear John, you have a great blog.I want to add your weekly dose page to my list, do you have an html banner? Thank you

  3. It's a little out of touch.

  4. lovely, informative site.

  5. anonymous,
    Explain how. You can't just say that and walk away. Have you even seen the neighborhood plans?

  6. A couple of quick reactions to the reality of a couple of things (Maybe they address it deeper int heir study):
    No sideyards? What about light and vent for occupiable space?
    Adding another interior stair eats up valuable space, especially on the standard lot. I do like the reduced front yard (No one uses it as a buffer 10' is enough) and of course I am all up for any 'sustainable design' moves in the rear yard (Tree, Greenhouse).

  7. persianarchitect - I don't have a banner, so text will do. Thanks for kind words. I'll check out your site.

    anonymous - Huh? (see bryan's follow-up, too)

    mia - Thanks!

    lil'g - I think the sideyard light/vent is addressed through courtyards and shallower building footprints (rooms facing front and back, not to the side). I agree about the interior stair. Also, the diagram illustrating that change seems to ignore how you exit from that stair on the ground floor. It can't be from the sideyard because there isn't one. So where d'ya go? As far as I recall you have to exit outside or into a corridor, not just into another space, such as a living room. Am I right about that? I don't have the inclination to do a code review on this right now...

  8. Since I do this day in, day out, lets just go over what comes off the top of my head.

    First, lets face it, most architects, diy'ers and people who care are not the issue - its the guys who choose getting it done fast over getting it done right that the rules are written for.

    2: Fire Egress - Once you hit a hallway or stairs, you cannot go through another room 'tiil you get outside. Open plans get a little fuzzy on just what constitutes a "path of egress" and you might have to paint your floor (I've had inspectors specifically ask) so not having a egress available from the side is tricky. This would have a tendency for "quickie" builders to put the stairs at the front and back of the space, which will do the opposite of the intent - blocking views and light.

    2. It will effectively end sloped roofs, which is easier for many contractors and less prone to leaks.

    3. Common Wall construction is a lot more difficult now than it was in a less litigious world. Also, any foundation work would require shoring of the neighbors property, which increases the cost, even with a more shallow basement allowed.

    4. Raising the basement will make it less insulated than a deeper basement.

    5. Green roofs cost quite a bit due to additional structural requirements, especially on garages which will require intermediate supports.

    However, there are things I do like about it

    1. Reducing the front setback

    2. Raising the Basement makes ADA compliant Units much more attractive.

    3. I think the emlimination of one side setback would be good.

    4. People should get F.A.R. credit for green Roofs, which should also not count against height limitations.

    5. I would also like to see (though, rumor has it, da mayer hates 'em) coach house residences over garages, so long as they are affordable units. This allows them to be built in a manner independent from full scale development of properties and neighborhoods, does not excessively increase density, and allows for better distribution of income levels throughout a neighborhood - this is more of an aside, as it wasn't addressed in Zola's site.

    That's all,

  9. hi John...wonderful blog and great work..wud be following u from now on...

    when u have time visit my blog
    (my Architecture)

  10. kind of sort of not really related, but the Chicago Apple store on Michigan Ave has a green roof. I'd love to see more of these.


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