House as Garden in Illinois

A self-sustainable sanctuary on the outskirts of Chicago

House as Garden in Illinois

A self-sustainable sanctuary on the outskirts of Chicago

House as Garden in Illinois is a residential prototype for Chicago’s South Side (USA). It is a partnership initiative between Michael Sorkin Studio and the non-profit organisation Blacks in Green.

The goal is to transform an impoverished neighbourhood through community engagement. The housing project will also be net carbon-negative due to its green systems and materials, landscaping and energy-savvy design.

The residence’s architectural form is stepped with cultivated terraces that are used as community gardens.
© Michael Sorkin Studio, The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction
Transform the community first

House as Garden is located in West Woodlawn which, 50 years ago, was a prosperous Black precinct. Today, it is characterised by a high rate of vacant lots, neglected buildings and disinvestment. It is therefore commendable that the community has undertaken efforts to reclaim its confines and invested in sustainability.

Driving the push is an eagerness to create conditions that foster a sense of place and belonging. Neighbours don’t just live next door to each other; they live together.

Residents are set to share many on-site amenities like a greenhouse, a guest suite, a micro-village and garden beds. They will also have access to common areas for gatherings, parties and other activities.

The extensive use of cross-laminated timber will largely contribute to the project’s net negative carbon target.
© Michael Sorkin Studio, The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The structure, mostly made with timber, is designed to be assembled easily and tended to by local builders, painters and apprentices.

Make sustainability simple

House as Garden differs from other urban buildings in that area. It is a modern, flexible take on the classic Chicago 4-flat. Yet, instead of being oriented from east to west, it is facing south to receive maximum sunlight.

The premises comprise four residential wings interlinked to create a mews, surrounded by lush greenery and an orchard.

One of the residence’s main features is its biophilic site, set to elevate the well-being of its occupants.
© Michael Sorkin Studio, The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

Several passive design strategies have been tapped to ensure building performance, such as thick walls, thermal glass and cross ventilation. It also relies on seasonal shading to lower energy consumption and operational costs.

Interconnected photovoltaic panels on the roof supply power to heat pumps and appliances on the grounds. Storage batteries and a new local grid bolster the network.

A lineup of photovoltaic panels on the roof help power the building.
© Michael Sorkin Studio, The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

There are provisions for composting and recycling. Rainwater is collected and stored in cisterns. Blackwater passes through an anaerobic digestor. Grey water is recirculated to provide toilet flushes and irrigation for the garden.

The house’s energy performance depends on key sustainable features and systems.
© Michael Sorkin Studio, The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

What sets this dwelling development apart from other sustainable projects is its focus on social sustainability. Its long-term success will depend on residents coming together as stakeholders, all committed to its upkeep.

It captures the logic and simplicity of sustainable living and reveals how, in turn, the lifestyle is predicated on a sense of community pride.

House as Garden in Illinois won the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction‘s Gold Prize for North America in the Holcim Awards 2020-2021 cycle.


Post sponsored by the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

A Pioneer project was ground-breaking in its day when it advanced the understanding of environmental design.



Fact Sheet

Disclaimer: Location provided as reference only. Exact site may differ.

Continental climates are typically seen in the interior of continents — 40° to 74° latitudes in either hemisphere — characterised by drastic seasonal changes. Architecture, here, adjusts to extremes, alternating between shade and solar exposure, ventilation, and thermal insulation.

There are no performance metrics available for this project.

Design firm
Michael Sorkin Studio

Designer team
Michael Sorkin
Jie Gu
Fabian Llonch
Jose Vargas Hidalgo
Andrei Vovk
Trudy Giordano

Blacks in Green

Team of collaborators
Naomi Davis

Structural Engineering
Buro Ehring

Team of structural engineering
Holger Schulze-Ehring
Ryan Cramer
Ryan Laber

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