Great Rivers Trail; Photo Credit: Ross Barney Architects

2019 Newhouse- Industrial Design: African American Heritage Water Trail

Design a monument along the trail to showcase the role of the River in the Underground Railroad and Great Migration

For many African Americans escaping slavery for northern states and Canada, waterways provided critical routes as they traveled to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Sites along the Little Calumet River – which winds through the south suburbs of Chicago – served as temporary sanctuaries for an estimated 3,600 to 4,500 people as they made the dangerous journey north. Later on, in the early 20th century, massive waves of African Americans again left southern states for opportunities to live better lives in northern cities including Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit – a movement of people that became known as the Great Migration.

Openlands, with the support of the Metropolitan Planning Council, among other partners, is working to build awareness about this history through an African American Heritage Water Trail along the Riverdale section of the Little Calumet River (located just north of 138th Street between Halsted Street and Ashland Avenue).


The challenge is to design a monument along the trail to showcase the role of the River in the Underground Railroad and Great Migration. The monument can take any form, including but not limited to: a permanent structure, a series of smaller installations or trail markers, gathering/reflection spaces, murals, sculptures, or landscaped areas.

Collect Info

Try this:

  • Research relevant historical monuments and memorials from all over the world.
  • Research the Underground Railroad and the Great Migration, paying special attention to how these movements of people connected to the Chicago region via the Little Calumet River and other waterways. Cite your sources.
  • What is essential to have in a monument? How would you integrate words and symbolism?
  • Photograph the existing conditions of the site near the River. What’s already along the proposed trail route?
  • Consider the surrounding context of the trail. What are other built elements and natural features that could impact how the monument/memorial fits into the site?
  • What are the areas along the trail that would be most conducive to placing a monument? How do visitors utilize the trail?
  • Is the monument of one piece, or several separate sections along the trail?
  • Consider Chicago’s weather and how your design might withstand it.

Explore these resources:

Brainstorm Ideas

Try this:

  • What makes this site unique? How would you create a monument that blends in with/stands out from the existing landscape?
  • How would your monument specifically address the role that the Little Calumet River and surrounding community played in the larger stories of the Underground Railroad and the Great Migration?
  • What are the materials, colors, sounds, and smells that signify the story you are trying to honor?
  • Who are the people that the story represents? Who will be the audience for this monument and how will they identify with and interact with your design?
  • How much space/square footage would your monument require? You want to find out how your monument would fit along the proposed trail while also leaving adequate room for pedestrians.
  • How tall and wide should it be? Consider the scale of other successful monuments, but also the context of the natural site itself.
  • Is the monument topographical/based in natural forms and plants, or constructed as one or more placed objects?

Develop Solutions

Try this:

  • Produce study models, perspective sketches, and scaled drawings (plans and sections) of your brainstormed designs.
  • What materials could you use?

Get Feedback and Improve

  • Ask your teacher, friends, family, neighbors, what they think of your design.
  • Get professional feedback at CAC’s Teen Open Studios.

Final Design

Submission Requirements

Register for this division | by 4pm by Thursday, April 18, 2019

3 renderings uploaded digitally | on Slideroom by 4pm on Thursday, May 9, 2019 in order to qualify for jurying:

  • One Overall: LASTNAME_FIRSTNAME_Overall.jpg
  • Two Details: LASTNAME_FIRSTNAME_detail1.jpg, etc..
  • Caption each of your photos to explain what is being shown

Essay (150-200 words) uploaded digitally | on Slideroom by 4pm on Thursday, May 9, 2019 in order to qualify for jurying

  • How does the design of your monument help tell the story of the Little Calumet River and its role in the movement of African Americans via Underground Railroad and during the Great Migration?

A stacked rendering/presentation center mounted on a single horizontal board | turned into your teacher or drop off location by 4pm on Monday, May 13, 2019 in order to qualify for jurying

  • Renderings will be 24”x 18” stacked and center-mounted on a single 30”x 20” horizontal board. Renderings may be printed on any paper surface
  • Be sure to include at least one scale figure
  • Fill out and apply competition entry labels with your unique participant ID number (Slideroom ID). Do NOT include your name or school anywhere visible on the model

Judging Criteria

  • A digital model must show an effective use of the design programs.
  • Innovation is shown in design
  • Design relates to specific people, events, locations, etc., as well as the broader context of these historical moments.
  • Your design must fit within the context of where it is. (Doesn’t look out of place or unrealistic.)
  • Show creative and appropriate representations of building materials – texture, color, and scale

Submit the project on Slideroom

Projects must be sumbitted by Thursday, May 9, 2019

Submit on Slideroom