March 28 2013

James Corner and the Re-Design of Chicago’s Navy Pier

The New Navy Pier

James Corner’s Field Operations, renowned designer of New York’s High Line Park, won the design competition for Chicago’s Navy Pier one year ago. The attraction is approaching its centennial in 2016, and the trustees of Navy Pier, Inc. hope the renovations will be completed in time to celebrate. Navy Pier is a major tourist attraction in the city, jutting out nearly 3,000 feet into Lake Michigan and attracting millions of tourists annually. It is hoped this re-design scheme will increase attendance in the winter months, especially as attendance in 2010 was down marginally to 8.7 million from 2000’s 9 million.

The team from Field Operations had to contend with the variety of concerns along the length of the Pier, including a new Gateway Park, a Crystal Gardens atrium, a new beer garden, a skating rink, and outdoor seating that cleverly undulates to form a market façade. As with most major new construction, sustainability is a priority, so designers have included innovative stormwater management and a “hidden ecotone” along the north side of the dock, which will help restore lakefront habitat. The designers had the goal of “realizing the more authentic and dramatic experiences of being on a major pier,” creating what they call the “Pierscape.” Part of this process will include better connectivity to the city underneath the Lake Shore Drive freeway, and better connections to the existing museum campuses along the lakefront.

Facade Detail

James Corner's planned facade will fold into stairs, forming seating for a pierside theater

Locals avoid Navy Pier to an extent, deriding it as a mere tourist trap, where visitors come to buy cheap souvenirs and a deep-dish pizza, and maybe take in an IMAX film before leaving, mercifully sparing Chicago’s outer-lying neighborhoods. One wonders if the intervention of a renowned architect could re-spark the interest of Chicago residents by engaging directly with the city and the lake.

Who benefits from a tourist attraction re-design?

Credits: Images from James Corner Field Operations. Data linked to sources.

Andrew Kinaci

After graduating from Princeton University with an A.B. in Architecture and a Certificate in Urban Studies, Andrew Kinaci set out to the Midwest to break out of the insular world of academia, and into the direct service of non-profit work. After a year working on Chicago’s West Side with a social enterprise specializing in re-entry employment training for ex-felons, Andrew now works for an organization conducting energy audits of multi-family affordable housing buildings. He will be blogging about the many ways Chicago is seeking a more sustainable and equitable urban future.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 28th, 2013 at 9:03 am and is filed under Architecture, Branding, Community/Economic Development, Environment, Government/Politics, Urban Development/Real Estate. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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