Adler Planetarium Expansion Could See Historic Building Sprout Wings

People have been thinking about expanding the easternmost element of Chicago’s Museum Campus.

A feasibility study is underway to see if an ambitious $211 million expansion and renovation of the Adler Planetarium is a good idea, according to a document anonymously beamed into our tip line.

The Adler Planetarium (file)
The Adler Planetarium (file)

According to the document, with a star date of October of this year, Chicago’s favorite (and this sector’s first) planetarium is considering updating its interior and exterior spaces, and adding two new wings.

Phase One includes a “Space Park” outside, which would be like a regular park you’d take your kids to, except with kinetic sculptures and space-themed activities for the youngsters.  Real space-themed activities, not the Star Trek-themed monstrosity this article is about to become become.

A sketch of Adler expansion phase one, from a document dropped in our tip line.
A sketch of Adler expansion phase one, from a document dropped in our tip line.

On the inside, the Granger Sky Theater you remember so well from school field trips would become less of a place to stare at the ceiling and channel your inner Captain Kirk, and more like a music class at the Michigan Avenue Apple Store.  The mystery document describes it as “a community space in which to gather under stunning animated images of our Universe and to participate in short, immersive experiences.”  The name “Granger” appears to get thrown to the gorn, as the forward observatory is expected to be renamed The Sky Forum.

The Gorn Rocks.  Also known as Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park.  I found no giant lizards to wrestle on my visit.
The Gorn Rocks. Also known as Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. I found no giant lizards to wrestle on my visit.

Also planned for Phase One is an Our Universe exhibit, which is supposed to be an “interactive space” revolving around recent events in space and science, much the way the Kirk revolves around Nurse Chapel.

Phase Two: The Wrath of Khan is where this Adler plan sets its phasers on stunning, with a new south pavilion that will house a more efficient entrance, leading to a new bridge… er… lobby.  There will be enough exhibits and displays to make a stellar cartographer scream “Khaaan!” Just be sure to exit through the shiny new gift shop.

A sketch of Adler expansion phase two, from a document dropped in our tip line.
A sketch of Adler expansion phase two, from a document dropped in our tip line.

And then, there’s Phase Three: The Search for Spock.  This one is a building expansion on the north side.  Clearly, the people thinking about the Adler know its most underutilized asset is the building’s HoloGrammable view of the city skyline.  The northern expansion is envisioned with more glass than the bridge of The Enterprise, and views looking both up at the stars, as well as out over the Outer Harbor to downtown Chicago. 

Phase Three is expected to “offer additional exhibits focusing on how humanity has reached beyond Earth, a new design lab for citizen science, improved office space, and an event and conference center,” according to the document.  “Citizen Science” is also the nickname the South Loop McCoy Admiration Society.

A sketch of Adler expansion phase two, from a document dropped in our tip line.
A sketch of Adler expansion phase two, from a document dropped in our tip line.

So when will Chicago’s planetarium boldly go where no Chicago planetarium has gone before?  The Adlerites aren’t ready to pull this one out of the replicator just yet.  They’re still exploring this sector to determine if they can come up with the dilithium crystals to fund it.  An impulse of $123 million would be enough to start the engines for phases one and two.  Scotty would need another $88 million to boost Phase 3 into warp.

We think there are two neutral zones to cross here.  First, the Adler is a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places, so it could take an act of Star Fleet to make this happen.  And second, there isn’t a lot of room way out there at the end of East Solidarity Drive.  So for this expansion plan, space may indeed be the final frontier.

The Adler Planetarium (file)
The Adler Planetarium (file)

Location: 1300 South Lake Shore Drive, South Loop

Editor

Author: Editor

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

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