Holcim Foundation


A stronger and better-equipped community

An affordable housing node on a larger urban network

This Holcim Awards winner originates from a collaboration between Michael Sorkin Studio and non-profit Blacks In Green. Their shared vision to transform a problematic neighbourhood of Chicago into a “sustainable square mile” focusses on improving housing affordability and empowering collaboration between residents.

Like many Black communities across the USA, the West Woodlawn neighbourhood on Chicago’s South Side had its glory days some fifty years ago. The suburb has a high ratio of vacant lots, many buildings are in a state of deferred maintenance, and disinvestment exacerbates the challenges. The House as Garden project shows how community can be regained and sustained by applying rational and appropriate technologies, self-reliance systems, and a spirit of sharing.

F13_attendee_SorkinMichael_USA.jpgA modern reinvention of a classic

This project helps to ensure sustained affordability across generations with a rooted sense of belonging. Neighbours do not merely live next door to one another, but live together through shared elements including an on-site greenhouse, raised garden beds and common spaces. Residents also share a guest suite for visitors and/or rental income for the micro-village as well as common areas for gatherings, parties, and other collective activities.
The building design deviates from the east-west orientation typical to Chicago. Its orientation to the south makes best use of sunlight. Composed of four residential wings that unite to form a mews, the design is a modern, flexible reinvention of the classic Chicago four-flat.

A20NAMgoUSil-07.jpgSustainability demands economy, efficiency, and connectivity

The project focuses on passive measures including thick, heavily insulated walls, thermal glazing, cross ventilation, and seasonal shading to reduce energy use and costs of operation. Photovoltaics provide power for the heat pump and appliances, topped up by storage batteries and a new local grid. The building will be net carbon positive, thanks to key systems and materials and its extensive greenery and lush orchard.

Rainwater is collected in cisterns. Blackwater is remediated via anaerobic digestion and resulting grey water is recirculated for toilet flushes (all appliances low water and energy) and watering the garden. Recycling and composting will be easy. Cars and bikes are shared. A focus of community pride and place, it will celebrate the logic and ease of truly sustainable living.

Read the full interview “A living organism” in Sixth Holcim Awards

Last Updated: April 18, 2022
Article Details
Chicago, IL, USA
Related Information
Related Video
House as Garden in Illinois – Author Comment
House as Garden in Illinois – Author Comment

Author comment by Naomi Davis, Founder and CEO, Blacks in Green (BIG), Chicago on House as Garden in Illinois – …

Related Video
House as Garden in Illinois – Project Overview
House as Garden in Illinois – Project Overview

A self-sustaining and collaborative neighborhood in Chicago where resource efficiency is the key to personal empowerment.

Holcim Foundation

Search Help

Our website search engine covers the web pages including project descriptions and expert profiles, PDFs, images and videos on the Holcim Foundation website. To improve your search results, here are some tips:

Basic search

Our search defaults to term-pairing AND. If you search sustainable construction - then the search engine will look for any items containing sustainable AND construction


photovoltaic OR solar

Looks for either word


(clay OR mud) AND (school OR university)

Combine alternative terms for more specific searching


geothermal -heating

Excludes a term from results, automatically ANDs other terms listed


"zero carbon"

Use quotation marks to search for a specific phrase or combination

Wildcards (one or more characters)


Asterisk (*) matches any word or phrase - so archit* will find architect, architecture, architectural as well as architrave