Places & Traces - CODAworx

Places & Traces

Client: Chicago Department of Transportation

Location: Chicago, IL, United States

Completion date: 2015

Artwork budget: $550,000

Project Team


Chicago Department of Transportation

Landscape Architect

Altamanu, Inc.

Industry Resource

M-K Signs

Industry Resource

Wausau Tile


BJ Krivanek

Krivanek+Breaux/ Art+Design


Joel Breaux

Krivanek+Breaux/ Art+Design


This system of design-art elements—inscribed crosswalks, paving zones, bench-forms and metaphoric streetlights—was integrated within the intermodal zones of the new Roosevelt Road streetscape, approaching Chicago’s Museum Campus, Soldier Field, Grant Park, South Loop and the Lakefront. The elements are inscribed with words that reference human actions and events, or the natural and cultural artifacts that are found in the district—past and present. The design-art program provides metaphoric wayfinding by referencing experiences the public may have in the civic spaces ahead. Dimensions: 128’W x 16’H x 1480’D (4 city blocks)


The primary goal of our collaboration was to integrate a program of inscriptions within 4 blocks of new hardscape, roadway, street furniture and infrastructure. With pedestrians from two CTA stations and busses streaming toward mass events in Grant Park and Soldier Field, all the elements of the streetscape needed to be extremely durable, so we worked with existing CDOT standards for benches and streetlights. The benches were specified in thick, polished stainless steel with inscriptions---natural and cultural artifacts, events and places (Prairie, Meigs Field, 2008 Obama Election)---waterjet-cut or sand-blasted into the surface. We designed a perforated aluminum form that matches the profile of a streetlight---matte on one side and mirror-polished on the other---to reflect the traditional top of the streetlight as an image of nostalgia and memory. Seen from across the street, single words inscribed atop the form reference ephemeral human thoughts (Exist, Imagine, Feel). Along the sidewalk, random pavers are inscribed with words that reference indirect human actions (Discover, Reason, Observe, Prosper), while the crosswalks are inscribed with words that reference direct human actions (Walk, Listen, Merge, Swim) that people act out within the district.


We collaborated with the staff of Altamanu, the landscape architects, to develop themes and concepts that could be realized within a heavily trafficked urban streetscape. To distribute inscribed content along the entire four block project area, we developed a program of inscribed pavers, inscribed benches and metaphoric streetlights, distributed as evenly as possible within the streetscape. Crosswalks were inscribed at major street crossings. Because the project was funded by CDOT and subject to mutiple levels of civic and public review, the development and implementation process was very prolonged and somewhat byzantine, due to the number of civic agencies and consultants involved. Regarding the content of the inscriptions---the actual words---the landscape architects and CDOT staff reviewed the final curation of the inscriptions incorprated into the design-art system. Surprisingly, there were actually very few edits, so I would say our creative authorship of the design-art system was well respected.

Additional Information

CDOT controlled the contracting of the design-art system elements because they were fully integrated within the streetscape and inseparable from the overall contracting. On the one hand, this was good, because we weren’t directly responsible for value engineering the artwork, although we were aware of budget lines for each element. On the other hand, it was less good, because we did not have the opportunity to directly negotiate the detailing of the system elements with contractors, which we actually enjoy.