This year our field trip will be to Chicago. The ‘Second City’ is often somewhat overlooked when discussing the great cities of America, with the cultural poles of New York and Los Angeles dominating our understanding of the country from afar. Yet it has been the home of some of the most forward thinking buildings, infrastructure and approaches to the construction of cities. We believe it is is the ideal site to investigate the potential of Datum Shifts, to investigate experimental conditions within a city, but also root this in relation to architectural construction.

Traveling to Chicago, we will see numerous masterpieces of modern architecture, buildings that occupied new datums of architectural possibility.

We will see the great American works of Mies van der Rohe – the Farnsworth House, Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Lake Shore drive and the Chicago Federal Center. We will see the influence the International Style had on Chicago’s ‘city of blocks’ where corporate structures become huge tectonic lumps, and make the city appear as if it were low resolution.


As a counterpoint to this, we will explore the projects of Frank Lloyd Wright where we will visit the Robie House, his home and studio, the Unity Temple, as well as the Rookery Building plaza and Taliesin East. Wright’s adoption into the Prairie School emphasised horizontal buildings that echoed the expansive American landscape, a very different approach to mediating space to that applied within the city centre.

We will climb the ultimate block – the Sears (Willis) tower, and venture out onto its Skydeck to gaze across the city. And we will follow in the footsteps of Louis Sullivan – a great architectural innovator considered the father of both skyscrapers and modernism. We will see buildings of monumental scale that have an ornate precision at 1:1 and discuss how this might inform scale and datum shifts within our own approach to design.

The Unit will also visit Fermilab, to see the modern legacy of Fermi’s nuclear reaction, where hadron colliders, bubble chambers and particle accelerators have refined the datums for understanding the world around us. These scientific machines have produced drawings and readings of space at an almost unimaginable scale, where particles become actors in some type of strange choreography. In order to manifest these tiny reactions, miles and miles of concentric tunnels and huge warehouses are constructed, an elephant standing on a pea.


We will explore Chicago’s subterranean landscape, with its origins in the ‘jacked up’ streets of the 19th Century. Where will will see the contemporary freight tunnels and transit systems that mediate the city. And visiting the Mansueto library we will see a collection of books sorted, navigated and picked by robot librarians. We hope to visit and collaborate with educational institutions in Chicago such as the University of Illinois, and visit local practices to understand the implications of building in such a monumental yet layered environment.

From its sewage system, to skyscrapers, to frantic dance music movements, Chicago is a city that gets on with things. We hope that our visit to Lake Michigan will inspire many new conversations and approaches to learn from and apply to the main design project.