PierEscape
Navy Pier Centennial Vision
Chicago, IL

34 ACRES • With Martha Schwartz Partners and SCB

This project — one of five finalists in a high-profile international competition — would have strengthened the Pier’s civic aspect with extensive new uses and spaces to make it truly an integral part of the city. Designed to be implemented in three phases, the first phase would have been completed for the Navy Pier Centennial celebration.

Navy Pier is the Midwest’s biggest tourist attraction, but its 1990s renovation as a festival marketplace was both heavily commercial and architecturally underachieving. We were asked to reinvent the exterior spaces at both ends and along the length of the Pier to draw broader audiences. Our key move was a new archipelago of floating docks along the southern edge that supported a spectrum of year-round activity, from sunbathing to ice sculpture. In addition, the amorphous entry to the Pier was divided into three distinct areas: an arrival plaza, a wetlands park, and a depot for city and tour buses. The length of the Pier itself is dramatized with a row of geometrical lighting towers, referred to as The Porch, that march westward, tying into the city. The tour boat moorings that block the views of the Chicago skyline were gathered into a single zone, and the underused amusement park on the upper level was reanimated with improved access and curvaceous landscaping. The Crystal Gardens was reimagined as a Children’s Park, capable of hosting special events. At the easternmost point, new terraces dipped into the lake as decks featured fountains and large-scale public art as well as a spa with hot springs. 

While not the winning scheme, our design was very well received by both the public and critics; Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune deemed it “Best of the Big Moves.”

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