In 2010, when Studio Gang Architects and landscape architects Smithgroup JJR released plans for the redevelopment of Northerly Island in Chicago, it was generally viewed as a very long-term project. Now, less than two years later, The Chicago Park District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are teaming up to launch phase one of the ambitious plan. Studio Gang's plan calls for transforming the 91-acre peninsula, which served as a small airstrip as recently as 2003, into a vibrant nature preserve surrounded by wetlands.
Northerly Island was part of Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago; it was one of several manmade islands included in the plan, but it ended up being the only one that was actually built. In 2003, then-Mayor Daley ordered workers to bulldoze large X’s in the runway of Miegs Field — the airport that operated out of Northerly Island — claiming that the airport’s proximity to downtown Chicago was a terrorist threat. Since then, the peninsula has served as a public park and concert venue, but because it lacks landscaping it isn’t a big draw among locals.
Studio Gang and JJR plan to radically transform the space into the city’s next great park. “It’s almost like a Millennium Park of nature,” architect Jeanne Gang told the Chicago Tribune in 2010, alluding to the enormously successful park and concert venue in downtown Chicago. The plan calls for moving a lot of earth from the perfectly flat former runway to create a more varied topography that will contain six different ecosystems. According to the Chicago Journal, an oak savannah would be located at the highest point, and at lower points there will be a dry-mesic prairie, a wet prairie, an emergent marsh, and a 4.1-acre pond, which will be connected to Lake Michigan via a narrow channel.
On the north end of the park, a large concert venue would be built into a hillside. A new shoreline would be built to create new wetlands and fish habitats, and a ship would be sunk near the shore for divers to explore. The plan also takes winter into account (winter is of course an unavoidable fact of life in Chicago) with the inclusion of an ice skating rink. With $6.65 million in funding from two federal grants and $1.5 million of the Chicago Park District’s money, work will begin this fall on the south and east sides of the park.
via Chicago Journal