Chicago Confluence

May 2010


May 30, 2010 4:22 PM
Adina Balasu


Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A

I. The Team:

    ADINA BALASU - Team Leader


    Chicago, IL 60654


    Structural Engineer

    Chicago, IL 60611

Martin Kim    MARTIN KIM, Registered Architect

    Chicago, IL 60625




    Chicago, IL 60603




    Los Angeles, CA 90014



    Chicago, IL 60603

II. Abstract

The Confluence is a proposed archetype for Chicago, a resilient building concept intended to “heal” the scars left by abandoned buildings due to the economic collapse. It is "productive" architecture that pioneers Resilient Building and Urban Design Principles and raises social awareness about Peak Oil and Climate Change. A Confluence creates a fertile environment for eco innovation and research and a visionary financial business plan for the city, founded on adaptive reuse for blighted urban sites. It is metabolic and evolutionary architecture that grows with emerging technologies. It no longer regards the Earth as an unlimited feeding ground but as an essential contributor to the natural environment.



May 26, 2010 1:24 PM
Adina Balasu



Healing the Chicago Scars through Productive Architecture

Envision a new typology: a true productive architecture, propagated through public education, shared scientific knowledge and merging of technological advancements. Every major city would have its own Confluence, a site-specific response to its immediate factors.

Our proposal looks at creating a resilient Net Positive building typology for Chicago, a responsible adaptive reuse solution that addresses alarming factors like Peak Oil and climate change. It is "productive" architecture that will heal the scars left by abandoned construction sites through adaptive public centers built on integrated energy harvesting principles.

It has metabolic and evolutionary architecture, enabling the site to pioneer and grow with emerging technologies. It is architecture that no longer regards the Earth as an unlimited feeding ground but as an essential contributor to the natural environment. This is our vision for the Chicago Confluence: 

Confluence Aerial View

Healing the Scar Left by the Chicago Spire

I. Vision

To be a global center for energy, innovation and environmental research and education. The complex is intended to lead by example and promote resilient building and urban design concepts to accelerate the propagation of knowledge and implementation at the city level, as well as at the national and international levels.

II. Mission

To produce world class research, policy and logistic solutions to advance America’s role as the premier, environmentally responsible supplier of energy.

III. Adaptation and Diversity

Though we are proposing a range of Confluence typologies ( see the Confluence Types section), the Chicago Confluence is designed to monitor, analyze and inform the building and the public about the health of the environment. The Smart Skin is composed of modular and adaptable components that are easily updated with more efficient emerging technologies. It will be composed of a partially shaded Eco Park, a Media Amphitheater, indigenous plant gardens and a Center for Innovation and Research. The spaces are conceived to accommodate working methods and technologies that may shift over time and welcome the spontaneous social interaction needs presented by a vibrant city.



May 25, 2010 1:37 PM
Adina Balasu



"This is the equivalent of approximately 6,708 million barrels of oil yearly" Convergence -The Online Magazine of Engineering and Sciences

They alone have the most significant negative impact on our environment. This proposal looks at creating a small shift in the way we approach the construction of our built environment, in order to propagate a positive environmental an economical impact on a global scale.

Buildings Energy Consumption

The 2009-2010 recession has slowed the driving forces that had propelled the developement of our communities and it has generated a general domino collapse of our global economy that has left many unsightly marks all around us.

Once the motor of real-estate speculation has stalled, what can propel us forward? 



May 24, 2010 6:50 PM
Adina Balasu



The Chicago Spire, Its Scar and the Opportunity


I. A Vision for the Elite

Our proposal focuses on one of the many scars left in the heart of Chicago by the economic tsunami that swept the face of our city. What we are proposing is a new archetype that has the ability to take over such vacant sites and turn them from a negative reminder into a positive symbol of resilience and progression.
We have chosen the unrealized Chicago Spire, a Calatrava tower which would have exceeded 2,000 feet and contained 150 floors of residential space for lease. Conceived at the height of the real estate boom, the structure was never completed.

A Vision for the Elite: Santiago Calatrava's 2,000 ft Spire.

II. The Scar

A 70-foot deep hole remains where the core of the tower would have been. Many Chicagoans consider this scar as a visual reminder of the economic collapse. This is a prominent and controversial physical example of the negative effects that can be caused by the lack of redundancy and ability to anticipate and adapt to change therefore we believe that developing a center for resilient research and innovation would immediately receive attention and raise awareness.

The Scar: An Abandoned 70 ft Deep and 86 ft Wide Hole.

III. The Opportunity

The site is ideally suited for public exploration of sustainable design. Pedestrian access is available from the busy bike and jogging paths that runs the full length of Chicago’s lake front. Lake Shore Drive bisects the site, presenting an opportunity for engaging with traditional vehicular infrastructure while also allowing convenient access. Chicago’s Navy Pier and the Magnificent Mile are located nearby.

Our site sits on prime real estate, at the junction of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. The site is situated on a peninsula bounded by bodies of water. It is literally at the Confluence of the Chicago River but is also at the apex of public activity in the city.

Confluence Site Plan

Confluence Site Plan

We need to propagate a resilient approach to the building industry if we want to build a solid and sustainable foundation for our society. Chicago Confluence will send a strong message about the ideals for developed space in the urban environment. Our proposal takes advantage of the natural site location and the remaining scars from an unrealized tower.



May 24, 2010 2:08 PM
Adina Balasu


Healing the Scars of the Economic Downturn through Productive Environments

A Confluence is a scalable, sustainable strategy to plan and construct both the city and the programs within it by employing intelligent strategies that are adaptable to change and are able to create regenerative environments. Architectural creation should model nature’s processes - utilizing its adaptive and self-sustaining synergies.

I. Energy Harvesting

Since buildings are responsible for the majority of our energy consumption, we are proposing a resilient typology that offers an alternative to future built environments. Our proposal minimizes the development’s Carbon emission, lessens Peak Oil and incorporates energy harvesting techniques that specific to the microclimate.

Confluences will be designed as Net Positive Energy Harvesting Entities that enrich the fabric of the city by adapting and reusing the Scars around the city into places for social education, interaction, research and innovation. In addition, it would produce enough energy to sustain itself and sell the excess power and resources back to the city to lessen the burden on its infrastructure.

U.S. Standard Energy UsageConfluence Energy Usage

II. A Visionary Business Plan

Confluence is a a shift in our approach to the building industry that goes beyond responding to program by converging all available eco-sources to produce a perpetual flow of energy. This typology is not only able to self-sustain but also become a visionary financial business plan for the client/city.



May 23, 2010 2:18 PM
Adina Balasu



Completing the Urban Fabric through Confluences

Confluences are intended to be site specific centers that respond to the needs of their social and cultural milieu, while pioneering environmentally conscious materials and menthods.

Envisioned Urban Plan

A Resilient Urban Plan: Confluences Serving Communities

Though we are interested in engaging a range of Confluence typologies that would take on a different appearance, adapting itself to its setting, the unifying factors are:

  • Convergence of all current and future energy harvesting sources
  • To become a net positive energy generator to feed the city
  • Set in the public realm to educate and propagate knowledge
  • Foster innovation and research to propel resilience within cities to be replicated anywhere
  • Create a local economy through manufacturing and distribution of the technologies developed at the Confluence

We are proposing three types of confluences to enrich the fabric and resilience of the city, for a range of conditions, budgets and output.

I. Type1- Low Resilience:

This is a type of Confluence that focuses of creating an outdoor recreational space for the public that is weaved in with one main energy production approach that promotes urban resilience through minimal site disturbance, cost and maintenance.

1. Carbon Dependency Reduction: Net-zero or net positive energy system

2. Singular Energy Harvesting System: technology employed is responsive to one predominant natural climatic condition such as:
• Wind turbine field
• PV panel field
• Eco park
• Native plant gardens

4. Infrastructure Durability: limited construction set in the realm of local agriculture and plants that have natural ability to withstand the extreme weather conditions.

5. Local Self-Sufficiency: the energy produced by the chosen system is used to sustain the site and is connected to the grid system for overflow energy production.

Type I Confluence

Type I Confluence: Wind Farm Eco Park 

II. Type 2 - Moderate Resilience

This type of Confluence requires moderate initial cost and minimal maintenance while focusing on providing a sense of place for the locals to have all year round social and cultural events and interaction. The program may include gardens for cultivating locally grown agriculture / vegetation in an urban setting that provides jobs for the underserved low-income inhabitants.

1. Carbon Dependency Reduction: heavy indoor and outdoor plantations of local species clean out the air and produce food along with jobs for locals from underserved areas of the city.

2. System Diversity: responsive to a combination of micro-climate conditions through moderate and low-tech technologies such as:
• PV panels
• Triple-glazed windows
• Maximized daylighting
• Heavy indoor/ outdoor planting producing locally grown agriculture & contributing to CO2 reduction

3. Local Self-Sufficiency: Well insulated structure which minimizes energy losses, maximizes (Southern) light exposure and employs stack/ cross ventilation for self-sufficiency. Additional energy harvesting technologies produce overflow energy that is sold back to the grid.


Type II Confluence: Biosphere

III. Type 3 - High Resilience

This type of Confluence not only promotes resilience in the city by reducing its Carbon footprint, being self-sufficient and net-energy positive but it also a first-hand testing ground for the on-site eco-research and innovation. This knowledge would be rapidly propagated to the locals by through rotating exhibits in an outdoor and indoor setting that combine leisure, social interaction and culture. This type of venue has the potential to become an international landmark for environmental awareness, drawing guests from all over the world.

1. Carbon Dependency Reduction: this typology is a visionary business plan that produces exponentially higher amounts of energy than it requires for self-sustaining itself. Its structure employs prefabricated parts that are fitted with energy harvesting modules.

2. Systems Diversity: multiple systems work in synergy to maximize energy input from all available natural resources.
• Wind turbines
• PV panels
• Gray-water collection and purification system
• Geothermal district cooling power plant
• Local gardens produce native agriculture, food supply & contribute to CO2 reduction

3. Systems Redundancy: The various systems working in additive mode produce a continual overflow of energy that during high-peak efficiency is sold back to the grid. If one or more systems fail the overall system would continue to be self sufficient through the use of the remaining energy sources.

4. Infrastructure Durability: high-performance, lightweight polymer ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), high corrosion resistance and strength over a wide temperature range

5. System Feed-back Sensitivity: smart skin and building components monitor and inform the building about the health of the city while harvesting energy from wind, sun and rain water.

6. Local Self-Sufficiency:

• Maximize South window area exposure to maximized daylighting
• Use triple-glazed windows to minimize heat loss
• Create Venturi tubes to accelerate wind energy from the North
• Wind turbines along Lake Shore Drive capture traffic and wind energy
• Roof structures collect grey water for storage and purification
• Smart Skin collects photovoltaic energy and offers shade and shelter for outdoor activities
• Maximize outdoor garden spaces for indigenous plants and agriculture
• Set up strong connections with local foot-traffic to minimize need for paved parking areas and discourage personal vehicle usage for a healthier environment

Type III Chicago Confluence: Energy Harvesting Concepts

This is a site-specific solution that takes advantage of the existing wind tunnels by Michigan Lake and absorbs the traffic draft by exacerbating it through Venturi tunnels and collecting it through wind corridors along the Lakshore Drive. It also collects rain water for purification and reuse and employs the existing hole to create potential energy through hydro-electric retrofitting.



May 22, 2010 1:47 PM
Adina Balasu



A Nature’s Process

This is a phased development of independent components that can be adapted for a variety of social needs. Manufactured locally for site implementation, creating jobs and demand for more Confluences round the urban landscape
Intended to create a shell/shelter, sense of place for education, cultural & social interraction. This will be Chicago’s place for a voice and action.

Like a butterfly that undergoes a life-cycle metamorphosis, Confluence is an evolutionary architecture that adapts to emerging technologies and social needs. Public interaction with the site's growth will help transform the perception of architecture from "responsive expenditure" to "social and environmental investment."

Larva feeds off of natural elements such as sun, wind, water, biomass, etc. Maximizing energy conversion from these sources, this typology can self sustain and produce excess energy to sell back to the grid and build popular excitement.

After developing a critical mass of energy, a protective Chrysalis will wrap the permanent program elements. The Chicago Confluence would feature a Center for Research and Innovation to monitor on site energy harvesting and receive information from the Smart-Skin that measures the actual pollution levels and micro-climate of the city.

Butterfly emerges after metamorphosis - a product of the experience and physiology of the Larva and Chrysalis phase. The modular cells of the wings can be replaced to feature the latest technologies. 

Confluence West Elevation

West Elevation



May 20, 2010 2:31 PM
Adina Balasu



A Community Place for Exploration and Innovation

Confluence Plan

Confluence Plan

1. Eco Park

Chicago Confluence features an Eco-Park for rotating exhibits on kinetic systems powered by nature, smart materials, innovative technologies and structures. Visitors will be enticed to tour the park, easily accessed from the Chicago’s waterways and lakeside paths. Additional "green fields" will receive the seeds of emerging technologies in wind power generation, kinetic energy capture, carbon-dioxide harvesting and others.

2. Center for Research and Innovation

The Center is enclosed in triple-glazed envelope and sheltered by the Wings which are open towards the South and North to maximize diffuse day lighting. The two floors allow for direct views with minimal thermal penalty. Since they do not engage the skin, they allowing for a climatic buffer.

Eco Park Featuring Rotating Interractive Exhibits

Confluence Eco Park and Research and Innovation Center

3. Smart Skin

(see The Systems section)

4. Hydro Lung

(see The Systems section)

5. Media Amphitheater

The center has a flexible outdoor area shelterded by the Smart-Skin Canopies, intended to host large outdoor cultural Media / Film events.

6. Vehicular Drop-Off

7. Pedestrian Access

The Complex is easily accessible to the public through walkways, bike trails and proximity to mass public transportation, with limited access to automotives.



May 18, 2010 4:31 PM
Adina Balasu



Energy Harvesting Components



Confluence Section: S.E.S. Components

1. Venturi Shells and Wind Tunnel

Like a butterfly spreading its wings, the shells wrap over the Lake Shore Drive and taper out towards the North, causing a Venturi Effect that accelerates wind velocities and traffic air movement. Wind turbines located on the South side and along the Drive collect the energy from the created air movement.

2. Center for Innovation Envelope


Center for Research and Innovation Envelope

A cocoon-like structure will enclose a research center and observation platform, allowing continuous site access by visitors and scientists. The envelope is insulated with triple-pane glass to minimize heat loss and maximize day lighting. The interior floors are made of thick concrete, creating thermal storage mass for passive heating and cooling. The floors are offset from the envelope, allowing for a thermal buffer-zone which increases energy efficiency and minimizes heat loss. Cross-ventilation and Stack ventilation are the main cooling strategies for the center.

3. Smart skin

Composed of a network of three-dimensional, four-sided cells, the envelope features modular components which are easily replaceable, accessible, programmable for specifics, developed and implemented on site. Modular construction of the structure will permit re-configuration to adapt to the prevailing market, social and technological forces as-yet unrealized. The Smart-Skin will harvest energy and measure the micro-climate of the city. Chicago Confluence will feature the latest eco-technologies that are able to monitor and inform the public about the health of the city.

Resilient Materials

The building skin uses the high-performance, lightweight materials such as polymer ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE)- a material that has high corrosion resistance and strength over a wide temperature range. The cladding is also designed to intelligently respond to solar radiation through the use of PV panels and PV paint. Sporadic modules are left open for natural ventilation and lighting.


New and Future Material Modules

Living Light - A dynamic skin glows and blinks in response to data about air quality and public interest in the environment. Visitors can even text message the structure and it will text them back.

Living Glass - The system collects input through an array of sensors and triggers local and global movement. As an environmental control, it could detect carbon dioxide and “breath” when levels are high.

Solar Paint
- Consists of a layer of dye and a layer of electrolytes applied to steel as a liquid paste. It will be more efficient at capturing low radiation light than conventional solar cells, so it’s suited to all climates.

• Solar, wind and kinetic materials
• Existing and new materials; high tech and low tech; conservation
• NANO technologies
• Locally developed and manufactured materials tailored to specific needs and resources

4. The Hydro-Lung

The existing "Hole" will be fitted with a Hydro Lung: a hydro-electric power generating apparatus, configured to permit innovation in net positive energy. The Hydro Lung is used for grey water reclamation, collecting large amounts of rain water with the help of the outward tapering structure surrounding which is purified for reuse.

Hydro Lung Plan

Hydro Lung

 Water enters the site from Ogden slip, which forms the northern boundary of the site. The water is channeled into a shallow circular pool that gradually feeds the outer tube of the Hydro Lung. Two submerged plungers are activated by the pressure differential. Additional input water, harvested from rainfall onto the expansive roof structure, provides enough hydrostatic head to perpetuate the net positive energy process.

The inner tube of the Hydro Lung is constricted by a two-level observation & research facility. This flow restriction causes water to shoot above around the observation platform at high velocity, creating a multiple-story cylinder of water. The visual effect is an allusion to the original purpuse of the shaft - core walls for a vertical structure. As the water falls back on the glass roof of the observation deck, it cascades down several levels of angled glass panels, eventually collecting in an elevated inner pool. Water flows out of this pool via multiple channels that feed a site-wide water course which explores other means of kinetic power generation and irrigation for the Eco-park.



May 2, 2010 4:36 PM
Adina Balasu



The Law of the Few

It does not take the entire population of the globe to make a change.

It takes a handful of people (us) to start an epidemic on resilience and spread it like a virus.

This is an audacious idea, but what if we are that virtual 20% that is putting in 80% of the effort and making a world of a difference in the way people will come to understand Urban and Building Design from now on? This 80/20 rule that economists love is the Ace up our sleeve, our Tipping Point advantage and we must grasp its power and use it. The Future lies in our hands, not in the hands of the many. But the "many" will follow.

It is up to us to make the changes necessary to reduce the footprint we leave on this delicate planet and harness its regenerative qualities. Peak Oil and Climate Change are no longer threats we mention while talking about the next generations to spruce up dinner conversation. They are effects we are experiencing today and often fail to recognize as causes of our destructive and lavish behaviour. They come in the form of extreme weather conditions, like tsunamis, hurricanes, extreme temperature changes that wipe out large population zones. We feel them in our pokets with the increase in oil prices which dictate the heart-beats of our global economies. ONE single resource can rock the economical stability of every so called "developed nation" on earth. Investors would call this Insanity. Yet, we still place all our eggs in the Oil basket.

The Chicago Confluence is a first step in the right direction: one idea, one site, one building and one city at a time until it becomes a common-place approach to our built environments. It is also only one of the many great ideas generated here, one piece of the puzzle that belongs in the bigger picture of the the Resilient Cities Competition entries and by no means a stand-alone solution.



The Connectors, the Mavens and the Salesmen


We are a handful of young professionals with a Voice, the future decision-makers of our built environments and we are taking a leading role in shaping the philosophies of the generations to come. We are a team of young architects, designers, structural engineers that genuinely believe that collaboration leads to better design.  We are motivated young professionals that have excelled in our particular areas of expertise. Our work together began through individual presentations at various professional events, co-written papers, blogs and other collaborations.  This team format allows us to complement each others' skills as we work towards a common goal.

The Chicago Confluence was collaboratively developed by our multidisciplinary team via a wiki.  Our greatest challenge was reconciling the many creative ideas into one cohesive vision. In the end, the entire team recognized that the collaborative environment allowed each individual's special talents to shine through. The result was greater than the sum of its parts.

wiki home

We used a number of online tools to facilitate communication. We conducted online surveys to determine the team's overall reaction to certain conceptual ideas. We shared visual concepts and developed them through peer review.

The Resilient City blog submission format was well paired with our developmental process. We enjoyed the opportunity to further evolve our concepts via the collaborative blog. We hope that you will agree that our process has resulted in a well-conceived vision for making our city more Resilient.





The Confluence is a proposed archetype for Chicago, a resilient building concept intended to “heal” the scars left by abandoned buildings due to the economic collapse.It is "productive" architecture that pioneers Resilient Building and Urban Design Principles and raises social awareness about Peak Oil and Climate Change.

A Confluence creates a fertile environment for eco innovation and research and a visionary financial business plan for the city, founded on adaptive reuse for blighted urban sites.

It is metabolic and evolutionary architecture that grows with emerging technologies. It no longer regards the Earth as an unlimited feeding ground but as an essential contributor to the natural environment.



Adina Balasu: team leader

Martin Kim, R.A.

Ken Maschke


Nathan Miller

David LeFevre

Ben Raines



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