Northerly Island, Grant Park have big changes in store
Both getting fresh designs — maybe for the better
A design team recently held a public workshop for remaking Northerly Island, the 91-acre peninsula that once was home to Meigs Field. The team was led by JJR landscape architects of Chicago and including Studio Gang Architects, the Chicago firm responsible for the spectacular new Aqua tower. One of the ideas floated at that forum was integrating the peninsula’s massive Charter One concert pavilion into a hillside as part of an effort to create a more naturalistic landscape. (Tribune photo by Alex Garcia / November 10, 2009)
Blair Kamin CITYSCAPES
November 20, 2009
They are two of the most contested pieces of ground on Chicago’s lakefront — the first, where the Chicago Children’s Museum wants to build its controversial kiddie bunker; the second, where Mayor Richard M. Daley executed his infamous “midnight raid” and shut down Meigs Field.
Big changes are in store for both. And — hold your breath — they might even turn out for the better.
The Chicago Park District on Wednesday hired the highly regarded New York City landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh to redesign 25 acres in Grant Park’s northeast corner, an area that encompasses the dreary Daley Bicentennial Plaza and, within it, the proposed site of the mostly subterranean Children’s Museum.
As part of the project, which will renovate the East Monroe Street Garage below Daley Bicentennial Plaza, just about everything in the plaza — grass, shrubs and sidewalks — will be ripped up. In turn, the park will get a completely new layout, including a children’s play area of up to 5 acres.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 10, a design team led by JJR landscape architects of Chicago and including Studio Gang Architects, the Chicago firm responsible for the spectacular new Aqua tower, held a workshop for remaking Northerly Island, the 91-acre peninsula that once was home to Meigs Field. Among the ideas floated at that forum: integrating the peninsula’s massive Charter One concert pavilion into a hillside as part of an effort to create a more naturalistic landscape.
That the Chicago Park District has engaged such talented designers is a sign of how much Millennium Park and its Lurie Garden have raised the standards for landscape architecture along the lakefront. But given the bitter controversy that has preceded them, no one should expect either project to travel a smooth road.
The 58-year-old Van Valkenburgh, who was chosen from a field of 29 firms, brings to Chicago a long roster of acclaimed projects, such as Teardrop Park, a 1.75-acre public space that is expertly sandwiched between banal residential high-rises in lower Manhattan. The park is highlighted by massive bluestone walls that evoke the wild, rocky topography of upstate New York. It also contains features that don’t look as though they were made by nature (or God), like a 25-foot-long slide in a children’s play area.
This tension encapsulates Van Valkenburgh’s approach, which respects but does not slavishly follow the picturesque urban landscapes of great 19th century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. At the same time, a Van Valkenburgh park is not likely to be as intense as Millennium Park and its oversize pieces of public art. For Chicago, he said, “we’re talking about something that’s neither Olmstedian nor Millennium Parkish.”
“One element that we’re interested in,” he explained, “is a children’s play area. We’re operating under the expectation that (the Children’s Museum) is going ahead. We’re interested in how you draw some of those kids to a very different kind of play space, something you wouldn’t buy out of a catalog.”
Typical playgrounds, he added, “keep children busy, but they’re not memorable, they’re not inspiring.” The Chicago children’s play area, he said, might be anywhere from 2 to 5 acres in size, making it a “significant but not dominating” part of the park. He wants the play area to engage adults as well as children, and to be designed for a wide range of children, not just aggressive boys….
To read the full Chicago Tribune article on the new park plans, click HERE!