Chicago Winter Dining Challenge

Winter Dining Challenge - Group of PodsWinter Dining Challenge – Group of Pods

You know those early days of September when there is slight chill in the air? The days that make you want to run to Target to buy out their entire fall décor section?  Yeah, we love those days.

For us, as designers and patrons of the restaurants in this city, this year that “chill” brings a looming dark cloud along with it. One question on our minds this year is how to bring business to a market struggling because of the pandemic that swept through, and how to do this in the months that have proven to be the hardest in getting people out of their houses. The City of Chicago and OpenIDEO wanted to hear from the community about this issue at hand with the Winter Dining Challenge, and we at Aria decided to rise to the challenge.

The Task: Design a comfortable outdoor environment to be in use during the winter months for users to dine in small groups.

The Concept Statement: Amidst the flurries of winter, these spaces will provide a safe, accessible, and pleasant experience for city dwellers to enjoy a warm meal, a strong drink, and robust conversation.

The glaringly obvious obstacle in this equation is the elements. Chicago and cold weather go together quite like a poppy seed bun and a Vienna beef dog. No? Just us?  The first question became, how do we remove the inclement weather from our equation? The obvious solution is to fashion some type of enclosed structure. That is where we started. As a team, we gathered inspiration images and started to evaluate what exactly we were envisioning.

Inspiration – Holiday Markets, Downtown Detroit – Curbed Detroit

What many of our inspiration images had in common was that they were easy to source, manufacturer, and assemble. The factors of cost, ease of assembly, and proximity of materials were all discussed in this conception phase – each as important as the last. We ended up with two leading ideas. One that addressed the issue on a smaller scale, and the other on a larger scale – so we proposed both ideas.

Winter Dining Challenge - floor plansWinter Dining Challenge: Small + Large scale concepts

The structure is made of 3 main materials, much of which could be sourced locally. Dimensional lumber for framing, plywood for enclosing the space, and polycarbonate sheets for allowing light within. The idea for the enclosures is that they could be placed virtually anywhere. On the smaller scale, restaurants could erect them where they currently have sidewalk patio seating, or valet parking spaces out front of their building. On a larger scale, groups of these structures could be placed in any open plaza, park, or community space paired with “pop-up” kitchens to allow for a place to serve food. Also, we wanted to engage the community by bringing in murals and wayfinding signage that could be painted by local artists. These murals are a way of promoting the structures on social media and drawing the community out, so that more people will see and share this concept, which in turn will lead to more business.

Winter Dining Challenge - PodsWinter Dining Challenge – Mural + Group of Pods

We submitted our presentation for the Winter Dining Challenge on the OpenIDEO website  and we hope to hear back soon on the results of the competition. The buzz about this competition has inspired many designers and creative thinkers to come out of the woodwork – check out the articles in TimeOut & The Tribune. Regardless of the outcome, this was an opportunity to be creative, to work together, and to offer help to this city and this industry that we love. As always, we here at Aria are available and ready to help any and all restaurateurs that are in need of a COVID-19 safe redesign. Contact us to find out more!   – Lauren Oldenburg + Hunter McCalla