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A flexible approach to outdoor dining that is adaptable and easy to implement for many different sites, and street configurations.

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A flexible approach to outdoor dining that is adaptable and easy to implement for many different sites, and street configurations. 

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Active application and potential alternative organizations

Solution Overview

The base concept of this design hinges on taking over a parking lane to allow for space expansion and the creation of outdoor seating block modules.  If there is no available lane but extended outdoor space such as pocket parks, extended sidewalks – the modules and outdoor expansion can take place there. 

The design of the block party extends the experience outdoor restaurant customers are enjoying this summer to the fall and winter. The enjoyment of the street activity, watching the hustle of pedestrians up and down Chicago’s streets all the while sharing a meal and moment with friends and family.  

Blocks can see different arrangements and stacks. A single block module holds two people, and parties can increase as blocks are grouped together.  

Each module/block can be painted to best reflect the restaurant partner and the neighborhood’s community identity.  


Pilot the program in places where outdoor dining has proven to work. And the solution is scalable at a location perspective – each restaurant or cluster of restaurants can set up as little as 2 block modules and scale-up. This allows for partners to be flexible and follow growing clientele, changing guidelines, or other changes in very uncertain times.  

Chicago has a lot of opportunity for implementing the modules:  

the City has 19,322 restaurants to potentially partner with 

the City has 700 miles of commercially zoned property often fronted with parking lanes 

the City has 300+ miles of underutilized bike lanes during wintertime that could provide buffer space between the blocks and the street, as well as space for snow plowing.   

The street closures this summer have demonstrated the ability for people to reclaim portions of their streets with little adverse impacts to traffic, and utilize this space to help live through unprecedented times where distancing is necessary

Technical Overview

Modules are framed using metal c studs, in expanded polystyrene. Objects are clad with sealed MDF. Interior faces use radiant heat from a thermal mesh system to heat the users. Recessed can lights are located at the top of each module.  

Each of the seating modules is not fully enclosed to allow for some air circulation but can also be equipped with a curtain to maintain the heating provided and allow for a warm comfortable dining experience even in lower temperatures or precipitations days.  

Modules also have a fastening plate and use an insertable pin joint system for joining multiple blocks for increased seating capacity. Using a caster wheel dolly blocks can be quickly positioned in place to adjust for different party sizes. 

When not in use the blocks can be compacted, occupying no more than a single parking space. A cable net mesh is used to seal and prevent unsecured access after hours. 


The Block Party proposal is designed to be implemented in all neighborhoods, regardless of income level, socio-demographic makeup, and most importantly is tailored for each of the partner restaurants’ needs and physical configuration. The users – community members in each of tbe implementation neighborhoods and blocks- will be able to access the same experience and enjoy safe and comfortable outdoor dining when temperatures drop this fall and winter.


Technical documentation, plans, and a 3D model to be provided.  

Access to a fully functional model shop to construct a physical prototype, as well as a long list of relations with the contractor to execute the design in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Upon selection, the team will work to create a life-size prototype to demonstrate its simple constructibility and implementation.  

User Research

Our team is well versed in urban design best practices, community engagement, and design in Chicago and across the country. Implementation of such a project has the ability to drive foot traffic and customers to restaurants in need, thus our research focused on planning work to address equity and investment issues in the City.

Covid-19 Safety

The blocks meet COVID-19 safety standards and follow the Reopening Chicago plan applicable to outdoor dining spaces. 

The seating modules are set up to allow for proper social distancing. Each module is placed at least 8-10 feet apart from another, to allow for ample space to satisfy the minimum of 6ft distancing required by the CDC. 

One-way staff and waitress circulation pattern around modules to allow for limited crossing and interaction, lowering the risk of transmission. 

Each module offers open-air ventilation and minimizes air stagnation. Each structure could be customized with extra curtains to maintain heat if so desired while the patrons are eating.  

Bar codes on tables to menu link and possible order and pay system through the phone to minimize the interaction with staff. 

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

Neil Reindel - Urban Designer & Planner with a background in Architecture and an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University. Experience at various scales and typologies. Focuses on placemaking and using architectural charecter to create unique environments. Flo Mettetal - Urban Designer & Planner with a background in Civil Engineering. Technical and data analytics expertise. Data-driven design approach to understand a place, region or neighborhood using geographic information and analysis.

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In what city are you / your team located?


In what country are you / your team located?

United States

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • City of Chicago website/social media


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