The workers cottage is having a moment—one of the most recognizable types of Chicago homes will be honored in Wicker Park with a sculpture and parklet in July.
Chicago-based artist Lynn Basa was commissioned to create a sculptural, tiled archway surrounded by landscaping and seating areas at the intersection of Wood Street and Milwaukee Avenue. Basa has designed over 50 site-specific art commissions, taught in the sculpture department at the Art Institute of Chicago and authored an artist’s guidebook to public art.
“Every weekday morning, workers stream along Milwaukee Avenue to downtown Chicago, past many of the same buildings that were there 125 years ago—eyeing the bars, restaurants and shops they’ll visit in the evening as a reward for their labor,” said Basa in a statement. “In this way, Chicago workers sustain Milwaukee Avenue as it sustains them.”
In the sculpture’s renderings, the seats feature a common embellishment seen above windows on many workers cottages and older three-flat buildings. The architectural style is closely tied to the working and middle class of the 19th century. It represents a time when Chicago was growing rapidly and homeownership was coveted and attainable.
Workers cottages were popular among the influx of stockyard and rail workers who chose to live in neighborhoods like Wicker Park, Ukranian Village or Pilsen. Around this time greystones were also common, but the well-known bungalows didn’t come until after 1900.
The homes are modest in size, one or two stories and typically had gabled roofs facing the street. Usually the brick houses were simple in design but high quality. Some found today can be quite ornate with stained glass or borrowed motifs from Queen Anne or Victorian architectural styles.