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An Open Letter About The Future of the Damen Silos

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Dear Governor Pritzker,

As members of Chicago’s architecture community, we are writing to express our dismay at the State of Illinois’ pending sale of the Damen Silos site to MAT Limited Partnership. We also express our support for the numerous community and nonprofit groups that have already spoken up on this issue and join their appeal to halt the sale of this property.

The Damen Silos site is a unique, 23.4-acre property at a critical point along the South Branch of the Chicago River. With waterfront access on three sides, this distinctive piece of land is prime for reuse as a cultural and community asset for the McKinley Park, Pilsen, and Bridgeport neighborhoods. Its towering grain silos, now likely slated for demolition, are an iconic fixture of the Southside beloved by residents and urban explorers. As part of a larger vision for the South Branch that spans all the way from Roosevelt Road to Damen Avenue, this property is crucial to the economic and ecological future of the area.

The importance of the Chicago River to the history and future of our city cannot be overstated. It reflects the best of Chicago – a place of innovation and industry, and more recently of tourism and ecological coexistence – but it also reflects the worst. The river has long suffered the effects of pollution and disinvestment along geographic and racial lines. In the Loop and on the Northside, the River has become a beacon for restoration and economic redevelopment, while the communities of the Southside have been largely excluded from these benefits. Such disparities were unacceptable when industrial and manufacturing uses were first zoned into these neighborhoods, and they remain unacceptable today.

Our job as designers is to envision the possibilities that come from even the most difficult projects and sites. But almost no imagination is required to see the potential that bursts from this land. At the very least, this site can become a well-managed ecological anchor for the South Branch. But with the support of the surrounding neighborhoods, it can also become a landmark cultural and economic catalyst for the entire region. Our interest as architects is not in prescribing what it should be, but in helping the surrounding communities understand its possibilities so they can decide what is most urgently needed from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

What happens next to the Damen Silos site will permanently transform the South Branch and the surrounding area, for better – we hope – or for worse. We urge the State to withdraw from the sale of this land and to give the communities of McKinley Park, Pilsen, and Bridgeport the right to decide its future for themselves.


Philip Enquist, FAIA
Susan Conger Austin, AIA, IIT College of Architecture
David Langdon, AIA, Krueck Sexton Partners
Thomas Jacobs, AIA, Krueck Sexton Partners
Margaret McCurry, FAIA, Tigerman McCurry Architects
Douglas Farr, FAIA, Farr Associates
Philip Castillo, FAIA, Jahn
Steven F. Weiss, FAIA, Weiss
Jeanne Gang, FAIA, Studio Gang
Iker Gil, MAS Studio
Mark Schmieding, FAIA, Goettsch Partners
James Baird, FAIA, Holabird & Root