Buffalo Grove native Corey Nissenberg fondly remembers growing up in the suburbs, playing games like tetherball and bocce ball in his yard.
Those memories of unstructured, outdoor play in the suburbs drove his latest design concept named TrainYARD -- for the Great Hall at Union Station -- and which became a winning entry in a contest.
Nissenberg and a team of architects were one of two winners selected by the Metropolitan Planning Council for their Activate Union Station contest.
"This was my first competition outside of school," Nissenberg says. "The whole thing has been surreal."
It was part of the planning council's fifth Placemaking Contest, which fits with its mission to sustain and enhance Chicago's public places. Council officials point to studies that demonstrate that vibrant public places pay economic dividends.
In reaching out to local architects for ideas, the council members hoped to reverse the trend that sees 120,000 people going through Union Station each day, but with few of them staying.
"We wanted to start a process with Amtrak of making Union Station a destination for the West Loop," says Marisa Novara, program director. "Our commitment was to simplicity -- and that was born out by the TrainYARD theme."
As part of the contest, teams had the choice of three areas within Union Station to design. Nissenberg and his colleagues say they chose the Great Hall because of its architectural significance and its classic beauty.
They created TrainYARD to provide a relaxing and comfortable area in a place that is usually stressful, Nissenberg says.
Their design broke down into three zones: relax, play and eat. For the play area, they carved out a park in the middle of the Great Hall, with turf grass, a bocce ball court and tether ballgame, and even a hammock. They used old newspapers to build benches, in order to make the design more sustainable.
As a winner, the team was awarded $5,000, which was spent on the installation.
"We knew the amount going into it, so we budgeted our design on the money available to us," he said. "Actually, we had to scale it down early in the project based on the amount of turf we could afford (our greatest expense)."
Their design was up in Union Station from Aug. 24 through Sept. 2, and Nissenberg and his fellow architects sat back and watched people use it.
"By working in this transitional space -- a middle ground between the suburbs and the city -- we wanted to give the commuters a feeling that many don't have time to experience during their busy days," Nissenberg says. "We focused on the concept of a suburban yard inside the Great Hall."
Nissenberg's team included: Graham Grilli, who works at Space Architects + Planners in Chicago, where Nissenberg interned this summer; Michael Gillhouse, a faculty member at IIT's wood shop; and Chris Phillips, a designer at Krueck and Sexton Architects.
Novara says she hopes that Amtrak officials will run with the TrainYARD theme in the future, as the council continues to promote creating public places that are interactive and accessible.
For Nissenberg, it's another feather in his cap as an up-and-coming architect. He dates his interest in the field to his freshman architecture teacher at Stevenson High School, Tim Tomaso.
Nissenberg took one of Tomaso's courses every year and with Tomaso's encouragement, he went on to major in architecture at the University of Illinois. Currently, he is earning his master's in architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology.
Nissenberg says participating in competitions like this allows him to see his designs go from concept to construction and gets his name in front of judges, who often include Chicago architects.
"We entered it for fun, tossing around ideas one night at a coffee shop" he says, "so to be named a winner came as a total surprise."
Even more, he says, it offered some real life experience.
"Rarely in school do we physically build anything at full scale," Nissenberg says, "especially not to this extent."