What the future Navy Pier might look like

Navy Pier is in for a redesign and here are quick summaries of the redesign plans from the five competitors:

•AECOM/BIG — The Crystal Gardens would become a “vertical urban farm” to supply produce to restaurants at the pier. A grand staircase would sweep over a proposed addition to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and offer uninterrupted skyline views. On the pier’s far east end, a tiered platform would create a “lifted corner” that would rise above the Dock Street promenade, providing another lookout. A tier on the other corner would descend directly to the water.

•Davis Brody Bond/Aedas/Martha Schwartz Partners — A series of boardwalklike extensions on the pier’s southern edge would include a variety of features, among them slips for tour boats, an outdoor theater, fishing areas and a beach. A “flyover” ramp would connect Pier Park to the boardwalks. A gondola would carry visitors to the pier from Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive.

•!melk/HOK/UrbanLab — Curved platforms would extend over the pier’s southern edge, providing lookout points. Boardwalks at the pier’s eastern end would let visitors get closer to the lake; below the platforms, and visible to the visitors, would be underwater “fish resorts” where fish would congregate. The towering structure called the Glacier would rise out of the lake off the pier’s eastern end.

•James Corner Field Operations — Undulating steps would join Pier Park with the Dock Street promenade. The plan also suggests turning the interior of the Crystal Gardens into a striking display of hanging gardens and putting oval-shaped cabs on the nearby Ferris wheel. A swimming pool with a sand beach would run along the pier’s southeast corner at lake level. A stepped amphitheater would lead down to the eastern end of the pier, where a platform would extend into the lake.

•Xavier Vendrell Studio/Grimshaw Architects — Circular arrangements of trees and plants would be installed to soften Pier Park. They would enliven the South Dock with pocket parks, terraces and kiosks. A wedge-shaped “horizon walk” platform would extend outward and upward from the pier’s east end, creating another vantage point to gaze over Lake Michigan and providing another reason for people to walk the entire length of the pier.

The images give you some ideas of the interesting ideas in play here. Check out “The Glacier” that would jut out of the water at the east end, various ways of expanding into the walkways into the lake, and a raised eastern corner paired with a depressed eastern corner (image 6 and 10/12 and 13, respectively, in this gallery). The idea that looks the most interesting to me: images 14 and 15 show a grand staircase that would really transform the “roof” of the structure.

At the same time, I can’t imagine that the City will allow anything too crazy, particularly something that might mar the lake views. After saving Grant Park from major changes with the proposed move of the Children’s Museum, I think Chicago will play it relatively safe while trying to offer more consistent recreational opportunities along the pier. I imagine there is more room to play with the walkways/promenade along the lake though this still has to appeal to a broad swath of residents and tourists. Perhaps the best way to do this is to make the promenade greener while also better utilizing the existing structures.

I do like the fact that this process has been made public. While some of these ideas are quite unique, it gives the public a larger vision about public spaces and what is possible. We could benefit from thinking bigger about what these types of public spaces could be like and how we could all benefit.

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