Leave the Seat Empty

Leave the Seat Empty is an ongoing series that consists of photos taken of buildings in Chicago in between the time a demolition permit is issued and the time the wrecking crews come.


The vast majority of the city's demolitions are vernacular residential buildings in areas that are either seeing immense new investment or immense ongoing disinvestment. In most cases, the doomed buildings are not deemed architecturally or culturally notable enough for proactive preservation efforts to succeed, where such efforts exist. They are most frequently replaced by new single family homes, or by empty land. These patterns aren't universal among demolitions, but are common outcomes of Chicago's current legal and market environment around land use, building vacancy, and new construction.

Despite its international reputation as a destination for architecture tourism, Chicago's policies around building demolitions often fail to protect historic structures. There are no easy answers to the question of which buildings should remain standing under which circumstances, but residents lack easy access to information about upcoming demolitions, leaving them unable to campaign effectively against demolitions they might oppose. And in many cases, no opposition would come regardless of the policy environment - it's easy to assign negative emotional weight to demolition, but demolition is not a universally negative phenomenon. I seek to document many of Chicago's doomed buildings in their final days, often with green worksite fencing already up, and be present to acknowledge their disappearance.

As an ongoing series, Leave the Seat Empty is documented via posts on my Instagram profile, providing specific background information about each subject site.