Renovating Buckingham

We have more information on the upcoming renovation of Buckingham Fountain.  The landmark waterpiece has been rehabbed any number of times over the years, but this time the city is going all out.  The preservation effort should also hopefully keep the fountain from leaking as much as it does and to make it more water efficient.

The fountain will close right after Labor Day and work will continue through the winter.   Expect to see the area tented off so workers can make progress even in January.  Hizzonor wants to have the fountain fixed and pumping by April 1, 2009 — that’s when the International Olympic Committee begins its visit to Chicago.  So what do we get for our $25 million?

  • Removal and cleaning of all the marble
  • Rehabilitation all the plumbing
  • Rehabilitation of the basin

It doesn’t sound like much, but there’s more in the works.  One notion being explored is replacing that horrible crushed pink granite mess that surrounds the fountain with a proper walking surface that doesn’t get in your shoes.

Trees and landscaping, though a great idea, cannot be added because it would change the design of the plaza.  It’s historic design was intended to be a vast open space, and in the interest of historical accuracy we’re OK with letting that go.  But no one’s sure about what kind of surface, historically speaking, was supposed to cover what it called the “table” (the area where people walk).

One idea currently gaining traction is to replace the crushed granite with paving blocks.  This would give people in wheelchairs better access to the fountain.  We’re told it can be quite hard to push through all those rocks right now.  The pavers would have a gap between them filled in with crushed rock to allow rainwater to drain into the earth instead of into storm sewers. The pavers the city is looking at would be constructed of concrete, but have the same crushed pink marble embedded in them to keep the plaza’s familiar color and to allow the color to last.

In addition to redoing the plaza, there’s talk of giving the fountain’s light show a high-tech makeover.  We’re talking LEDs here, but elderly crabs are shrieking in fear of lasers.  If so, so what?  Chicago could use a good laser show.

So, where does the $25 million come from?  Well, this time it’s not entirely your wallet.  Eight million dollars comes from the ARTIC’s Ferguson Fund.  That’s money used for public art in the city.  Another $1 million comes from Lollapalooza, payable in four yearly installments of $250,000.  The remainder will come from your pocket, though it’s hard to say in what form.  Ideally the city and the state would kick in an equal share (It’s not like the state tourism board doesn’t use Buckingham in any of its promotions).  But a full state contribution is seen as unlikely considering that Governor Blagojevich cut $350 million from hospitals recently.  So either the city is going to have to fork over the entire amount, or we’re going to see some corporate branding like with the Chase Promenade and the BP Pedestrian Bridge in Millennium Park.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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