Above: A Future Version of 1008?
As we prepare to move out of our studio at 1008 W. Randolph St., it’s impossible to say that our feelings aren’t mixed. After several months of trying to decide what the right move would be, we decided to give up our in-studio workshop and move into a more traditional office space. This decision was made after months of weighing the options, evaluating what is most important to us, and visiting dozens of locations around Chicago.
It might come as a surprise to some of you that we are doing this. We’ve worked on some amazing design+build projects over the past five years; from designing all of the furniture for the Art and Design office at UIC in 2009 to our recent work for the film “Divergent,” and dozens of custom client projects in between. We’ve also spent countless hours prototyping our own product designs, doing small batch manufacturing, and creating huge messes while experimenting with materials and processes. How, you may ask, can we give this up?
The answer is actually simple. We’re doing it because we want to focus entirely on design. We cannot do the designing AND the making anymore. If we are going to grow, we absolutely need to focus, and moving from a 3500 sq ft. work space into a 500 sq. ft office is all about concentration, in every sense of the word.
So, with this level of resolve, you may wonder what the “mixed feelings” are about. While we do feel absolutely certain about our decision to change the way we work, we will definitely miss the space and the neighborhood that has become our second home; however change has already been in progress for some time here in the west loop, and it doesn't entirely seem like change for the better. For many months, we've seen more and more of the small family owned businesses on Randolph Street shut down, being replaced by trendy restaurants (don’t get me wrong, I like many of them) but even more frequently with simply a banner stating “SPACE AVAILABLE.”
“Space Available” to who, exactly? Who is this neighborhood for? How is it possible (and even legal) for a few small entities to gobble up all of the property in an area like some kind of rigged game of Monopoly? It's obvious that rapid gentrification is in full effect, and in some ways, It's good for Chicago. However, it feels inherently wrong that dozens of businesses are being forced out or bought out of the spaces they've inhabited because market forces have determined that this area is now a desirable place to generate real estate ROI.
Is this what people want? I always felt that part of what made The Fulton Market/Randolph street area most interesting was the diversity. I liked that extravagant restaurants were across the street from wholesale meat markets. I liked that forklifts would park for the night in front of art galleries. It always felt, for lack of a better word, authentic ... like a cross section of all that the city had to offer bundled up in one place. Now it's a great place to get a really expensive cocktail while you wait for two hours for a table.
What is most surreal about all of this is the way that the changes are taking place within the existing architecture. Out of a desire to "preserve the character" of the "neighborhood," buildings that used to be warehouses are getting gut-jobs and facade-lifts so that they can become boutique hotels, restaurants and retail stores. Witnessing this taking place is like watching a neighborhood become a Stepford Wife; It looks like Randolph St., and it technically is Randolph St., but it's not "Randolph St." anymore. It's now the souvenir version of its former self.
So what comes next? To be sure, many exciting and wonderful things. Many people are involved in directing the future of this neighborhood, and it is my hope that it benefits the many, and not just the few.