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#590 Online: Leave the Seat Empty - Documenting Demolition in Chicago

Online: Leave the Seat Empty - Documenting Demolition in Chicago


Soren Spicknall, independent photographer, he/him

Despite its international reputation as a destination for architecture tourism, Chicago’s policies related to building demolition often fail to protect historic structures. This is especially true for vernacular residential buildings in areas that are either seeing immense new investment or immense ongoing disinvestment. Beyond aesthetic and historical concerns, demolition patterns have strong implications for density, housing affordability, and many other important aspects of city life.

There are no easy answers to the question of which buildings should remain standing under which circumstances - demolition is not an inherently negative phenomenon - but residents lack easy access to information about upcoming demolitions, leaving them unable to effectively seek alternative paths for buildings whose demolition they might oppose. Public data related to demolition activity is messy, complicating attempts to learn about individual demolition plans or to interpret broader patterns at the neighborhood or city scale.

Leave the Seat Empty is an ongoing photo series by Soren Spicknall, capturing buildings in Chicago in between the time a demolition permit is issued and the time the wrecking crews come, paired with writing about the subject buildings. At Chi Hack Night, Spicknall will discuss the methods he uses to research ongoing demolition activity, key patterns driving demolition in Chicago, and the shortcomings of available public records related to demolition.