Chicago is known for its penchant to “make no little plans” as Daniel Burnham memorably pronounced over a century ago. And so today, Chicago’s most popular attraction, Navy Pier is revisiting Burnham’s legacy as it reimagines its potential as a world class cultural destination. To help realize Navy Pier’s ambitious design goals, a team led by !melk, UrbanLab and HOK has proposed a series of dramatic ideas to reconceptualize Chicago’s preeminent exclamation point extending from the Great Lakes to the world.
The design team is headed by !melk principal Jerry Van Eyck, a former partner of the renowned Netherlands based landscape and urban design firm West 8. Van Eyck has realized numerous cutting-edge landscape-centered projects around the globe. Reinvigorating cultural landmarks such as Navy Pier into dynamic places that attract worldwide attention is exactly what Van Eyck knows how to do.
Team !melk’s design proposal stems from the geological history that formed the unique Chicago and Great Lakes landscape. The melting mile-thick glaciers of the last Ice Age left not only the five Great Lakes, but also left behind smaller marks on the landscape, or landmarks throughout the region. The swell and swale landmarks imprinted on the landscape such as drumlins, kames, moraines, eskers and kettles are spectacular forms. Team !melk works with these unique natural phenomena to create a series of topographic waves and curls that smoothly unify the once highly fragmented Pierscape. The new topography also creates and opens surprising movements, social spaces, vistas, observation points, places for activities, contact with nature, and art.
The design team strongly believes that to appreciate the magnitude of the Great Lakes people must get close to them…and then get even closer. This closeness is at the heart of their approach. The team has found several ways to inspire people to experience the power of the Great Lakes in multiple states. The team’s boldest water-based design proposal is the “Glacier”. The icon embraces water in all its states, especially in the winter when onboard waterfalls create flows of ice freezing the tower into a glacier. It will surely become the next must-see global attraction. A less monumental but equally compelling water-based design feature includes a “Fish Resort”. This is a much larger version of Chicago’s existing “fish hotel”, which has been a successful attractor of both fish and people of all ages and sizes. The team is hopeful that the Fish Resort will become an attraction equal in popularity to seal watching on Pier 39 in San Francisco (Pier 39 receives twice the number of yearly visitors than Navy Pier largely based on the presence of the seals). Team !melk is also making plans to strengthen Navy Pier’s connection back to the urban fabric of Chicago. Currently, many people living in Chicago have the impression that Navy Pier is a far-off destination rather than a place to visit routinely. The design team is recalibrating this scenario with highly interconnected new spaces and programs authentic to Chicago. The team has redesigned Gateway Park – the primary physical connection back to the city – with a new public plaza housing several new potential programmatic and cultural venues. Providing economic sustainability to Navy Pier is the long term goal, and these ideas will likely happen over multiple phases. The short term goal is to attract Chicagoans by making them feel as though Navy Pier is a vital slice of a unique city.