Searching for a new vision for Navy Pier

Those in charge of Navy Pier have been searching for some years now for a new plan that will enhance this popular space:

In 2006, pier officials unveiled plans for a glitzy theme park-style remake of the 3,000-foot lakefront icon. The design (left) was tacky and backward-looking, relying on such gimmicks as a roller coaster and floating parking garages disguised as ships. We should all be thankful it was shot down.

Now, five years later, pier officials appear to have raised their sights and rightly recognized that Navy Pier is primarily a public space, not a shopping mall by the sea.

As they announced yesterday, they’re embarking on an international search for teams of architects and other designers to give the pier’s public spaces a new look.

As a long-range framework plan by the Chicago office of Gensler makes clear (above), Navy Pier 2.0 is not going to be one of those cutesy, festival marketplaces–a halfway house for suburbanites easing their way into the big, bad city. Inspired by the example of Millennium Park, it will strive for something more aesthetically daring.

This sounds like a good change of course: make sure that Navy Pier is a place worthy of a world class city like Chicago rather than developing a kitschy tourist trap. I would be interested, however, in knowing which “cutesy, festival marketplaces” that Kamin is referring to. Places like Reading Market Terminal in Philadelphia? Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston? The Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles? On what exactly place should Navy Pier be modeled?

I was down at Navy Pier a few weeks on a beautiful August night in Chicago. Having not been there for a few years, I was pleasantly surprised: the tourist aspect wasn’t too strong (granted, we didn’t go inside the shopping area at the front), the Ferris Wheel is an interesting attraction (with some good sunset views), the combination of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows gives the space some higher culture, and the weather, sunset, and happy but peaceful crowds made the stroll to the end of the pier quite enjoyable. Here was the view looking to the northwest:

Navy Pier Sunset Aug 2011

As many sociologists would argue, places like Navy Pier can and should be valuable public spaces that need to be available to all people.

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