Northerly Island transforms a man-made peninsula on Chicago’s lakefront into a 91-acre living ecosystem, a public park only twenty-first century knowledge could build.
The design embraces the island’s artificiality and uses the occasion to construct a topography and landscape that will encourage wildlife to occupy it—over time, creating an amplified, biodiverse ecology whose various habitats and architectural features offer people multiple ways to engage directly with nature without leaving the city.
Studio Gang’s design for Northerly Island was developed as part of a comprehensive framework plan in collaboration with the US Army Corp of Engineers and JJR Smith Group. The framework plan envisions a series of environmental enhancements, ultimately resulting in the creation of a lagoon formed by a constructed reef that serves as fish-spawning habitat and also works to calm wave activity, as well as various architectural features.
The wetland and savanna on the southern end of the island will continue to mature and are already attracting birds and fish as well as other native species. Visitors can walk and bike along a looping path and enjoy activities like birdwatching and camping. Subsequent phases of the plan call for a new waterfront boardwalk and amenities with opportunities to kayak and scuba dive, among other activities.
At the north end of the island, near the Museum Campus, the framework plan envisions an outdoor music amphitheater that is integrated into the landscape, potentially one of many new cultural offerings.
Habitat restoration of the southernmost 40-acres began in the fall of 2012. The southern end of the island was opened to the public in September 2015.