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How does the architecture of a cooperative grocer—collective, neighborhood-owned, independent—differ from a corporate franchise supermarket? How might alternative models of food distribution manifest in the form of a check-out line, a grocery cart, or the organization of produce? Chain supermarkets today represent over 50% of sales, employees, and grocery locations in the United States; yet for neighborhoods which have been passed over by major chains, few alternatives remain. In Chicago during summer 2020, the uprisings around the Movement for Black Lives in response to ongoing police violence produced civic unrest, resulting in the temporary closure of many grocery stores and the City government’s shuttering of public transit. In confluence with the covid-19 pandemic, this summer left many South- and West side residents without access to the existing local few grocery stores—exacerbating existing food insecurity. Against this backdrop, Chicagoans organized mutual aid networks: pop-ups and food drives in schools and churches; the transformation of restaurant kitchens; even shared refrigerators on public streets to give-and-take. How can these collective efforts inspire the design of more permanent models of food distribution and access?

This studio will focus on a site in North Lawndale, a majority African-American neighborhood on the West side of Chicago, with a rich history of community organizing, arts and culture, and notable architecture. Today, after decades of disinvestment due to discriminatory policies and attitudes, North Lawndale residents do not have access to a major grocery store—despite ongoing efforts to bring one by community organizers, including the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC). This studio will study the architectural possibilities of a cooperative North Lawndale grocery store, in contrast to chain grocers such as Mariano’s or Whole Foods. Students will develop a wide exploration of precedents of “food cooperatives,” as well as existing Chicago precedents and ongoing mutual aid efforts.

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Student Work

Judith Mendoza – “Heart of North Lawndale”

In a food desert community where 73% of the population experience malnutrition, a cooperatively owned grocery store with a food hall will provide accessibility to North Lawndale with fresh, local, and healthy produce. The food hall will support the neighborhood with employment, education, nutritious food, and community engagement.

Danielle Weitzman – “The Kitchen Table Co-op”

The Kitchen Table is a cooperative grocery store, community kitchen, and restaurant that, in partnerships with local farms, provides fresh and healthy food, employment and skill training opportunities within the North Lawndale neighborhood. Most importantly, The Kitchen Table is a place where people can come together as a community and share a meal in indoor and outdoor public spaces.

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