Chicago Design Milestones

An installation showcasing the evolution of design from 1920s to the present.

Sharon Oiga
Associate Professor
University of Illinois at Chicago

Guy Villa Jr.
Assistant Professor
Columbia College

Daria Tsoupikova
Associate Professor
UIC School of Design

Chicago Design Milestones is a media installation that brings to life the evolution of Chicago design by examining and showcasing the historic characteristics of design works from the 1920s to the present. Project material was researched and culled from the robust collection of the Chicago Design Archive (CDA), which holds over 3,200 works from over 1,100 designers and 400 firms. The CDA, the UIC School of Design & Electronic Visualization Laboratory, and Columbia College Chicago collaborated together on this project, as their underlying and ongoing quest is to spotlight the role of Chicago as a major national design center through the use of innovative technologies.

A significant challenge was figuring out how to represent the thousands of archived works from the past 100 years. This was done by scouring every single image, over countless hours, and selecting representative works for each decade.

Another challenge was figuring out how to best employ the distinctive installation structure of 150 Media Stream, comprised of 89 LED vertical blades that reach 22 feet high and span 150 feet wide — a vertical pattern combined with massive horizontality, which are opposing but interesting dynamics. These are constructs the team made sure to utilize, by ensuring that particular images animate to traverse the unique terrain.

Chicago design history is not commonly brought to the attention of the general public. The project offers it outside of the confines and prompting of a book, classroom or school, and it is instead framed in the context of an immersive technological experience.

The aim is to engage onlookers and inspire them with the city’s creative history. Hopefully, viewers delight and marvel in what they see. Perhaps they will feel a sense of nostalgia, a feeling of pride for the city, or gain a stronger appreciation for Chicago history and creativity.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 6.2: CAA 2020 Conference Chicago on February 14, 2020.