New Navy Pier Plans Stir Some, Leave Others Cold

Navy Pier design competition

The Navy Pier Redesign Competition brought plenty of excitement to the Museum of Contemporary Art on Tuesday night, the first of two evenings of presentations by the design teams articulating new visions for the Chicago landmark.

The public was able to inspect models of the proposals and glance at television screens flashing renderings. As the start of the program approached, the 300-seat theater was at capacity, and even the overflow room was overflowing. The strong public interest illustrates Chicago’s love of visionary design and Navy Pier’s ability to generate publicity for the project.

Navy Pier design competitionDespite coming for different corners of the globe and representing various styles, the design teams shared two central principles in approaching the Navy Pier project. First, they wanted to continue Daniel Burnham’s legacy of making no small plans. Navy Pier’s massive scale, popularity, and rich history demand a transformation into a world class, iconic civic landmark. In response, the presentations indulged in fantasy, imagination and possibility. Second, all of the designs transformed Navy Pier into a “pierscape” with diverse activities to engage and attract the public.

Although each plan is very different, they shared similar design elements:

  • A re-design of Gateway Park for greater integration into the urban fabric.
  • Establishing a relationship with the lake’s ecology, bringing people closer to the water and a broad greening of the pier with gardens and vegetation.
  • Expansion of children and family actives.
  • Realignment of the boat moorings to no longer obstruct views of the city skyline.
  • The creation of a climax at the pier eastern edge.

The goal of the design competition is to transform Navy Pier from a rather dull commercial and recreational space into a true civic monument. As such, the central element of the design plans was the creation of a civic space.

The first team to present was Aedas Architects/Davis Brody Bond/Martha Schwartz Partners. The plan showcased a series of floating, zig-zagging piers extending out into the lake. Different piers would have different activities, are be largely free of commercial pressures. They’d stand as a grand public space.

The next team, AECOM/BIG with Danish starchitect Bjarke Ingels, presented the highlight of the evening: a grand staircase-like half amphitheater facing the ferris wheel which would be festooned with LED lights. The staircase and ferris wheel would frame a civic space for public events. The AECOM/BIG team even envisioned a mobile phone app that could personalize your pier experience.

The final team, !melk/HOK/UrbanLab, had the most restrained design, which failed to inspire. The boldest feature was a structure out in the water at the eastern most edge of the pier, suggesting a glacier, that would shower water in the summer and freeze over in the winter.

All of the designs as presented would seem to cost significantly more than Navy Pier’s $85 million budget. Unless more money is raised, there is a risk of a scaled back design and disappointment. However, Tuesday night at the MCA was less about reality as it was about vision. The competition is intended to select a design team and their theme, not necessarily the actual finished design.

If built, the project is not scheduled to be completed until 2016, and will no doubt encounter hurdles and drama. For the moment however, let us indulge these international architects and their plans to make Navy Pier truly world class.


Author: Paul Kulon

Paul Kulon is a Chicagoan and blogger. You can see more of Paul’s photos and musings on his Tumblr feed, Bohemian Embassy

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