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Winter Layers, An Outdoor Dining Toolkit

A simple, adaptable solution based upon the layering of off-grid heating techniques with vibrant, interest-generating design

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A simple, adaptable solution based upon the layering of off-grid heating techniques with vibrant, interest-generating design

Idea Title

Winter Layers, An Outdoor Dining Toolkit

Company / organization name (if applicable)


Please include a visual representation of your concept, including but not limited to images, diagrams, or 2D / 3D graphics

Descriptive illustrations from the street and sidewalk perspectives

Solution Overview

Restaurants can use this toolkit to create a series of layered micro-climates to keep their staff, patrons, and communities safe and comfortable while providing an attractive and exciting festival-like winter dining experience. Modular, scalable, and based on upcycled and readily available materials, the solution is highly adaptable to a diverse range of service models. Furthermore, by using off-grid solutions ,the carbon footprint is reduced by 1/3 compared to electric heating.


This solution is intended to provide guidelines and important specifications only, with the understanding that the exact materials and construction technique will need to vary in order to accommodate individual business needs regarding schedule, construction, and budget. The materials listed are all readily available, drawing from hardware and online stores and products already commonly used for restaurants, such as propane heaters and exterior vestibule solutions.

Technical Overview

Wherever possible, simplicity is emphasized. There are no elaborate details required in order to function, but there are a small number of important considerations:

The wind break needs to be as air tight as possible. This means that seams need to be sealed, taped, or otherwise sufficiently lapped in order to prevent air leaks. This wall construction should also be made of two layers with an air gap of approximately 1-inch in order to achieve a modest insulative value. It is recommended that the base be wood or polycarbonate panel for durability next to the ground.

The pop-up tents should use a clear or thin fabric material in order to gain the benefit of the radiant heater used in the outer layer. One benefit of radiant heat is that it will "sync" to people and objects while ignoring the air. However, this means that sightlines to the heater should be maintained.

Thermal comfort has been modeled in detail in order to make insulation & heating equipment recommendations


The modular nature of [Title] is a response to the diverse nature of the restaurant industry and its customers. In reviewing user research, we noted that virtually every restaurant ranked its priorities differently. Some rely on street parking, while others provide mainly curbside pickup, while still others would be best served by outdoor dining in an off-site location. These solutions can be combined to accommodate any of these preferences, and elements like light and art can be customized to


Prototyping can be easily achieved as described in the feasibility section

User Research

Achieving 80F MRT, as done for interior environments, is achievable with a radiant heater. This is illustrated in the figure provided. Note the units are Celsius.  

The theoretical heat loss was calculated using the average temperature in January in Chicago. Overall heat loss was calculated at roughly 17,650 btuh.  

Therefore, high intensity gas fired radiant heaters are proposed. Assuming an efficiency of 50%, 2, 22,000 btuh input propane heaters can generate up to 60F.

To increase operational flexibility and eliminate the need to tie into local infrastructure (e.g., electricity and natural gas), the heaters should utilize propane tanks and not required electricity.  If #40 propane tanks are used for each heater, then each heater can operate for approximately 40 hours before needing to be replaced. Even without electricity, the heater output and gas valve can be regulated through a local thermostat and thermocouple.

Covid-19 Safety

Winter Layers, An Outdoor Dining Toolkit is based on a calibrated balance between thermal comfort and healthy air flow. The primary ways that this solution reduces viral transmission are by venting air from dining areas to the exterior, and by reducing physical contact between groups of diners and staff. 

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

SmithGroup is a multi-disciplinary architecture, engineering, and planning firm; our team is comprised of Architects, Landscape Architects and Mechanical Engineers with experience working with local Chicago neighborhoods and municipal agencies to develop new permitting strategies for outdoor dining within the public right of way and parking lanes.

Please describe your legal or organizational structure

Corporation, owned by its practicing principals

In what city are you / your team located?


In what country are you / your team located?


How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • City of Chicago website/social media


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