As it stands now, Chicago's Navy Pier is a cluttered, over-commercialized tourist trap that juts out into Lake Michigan. But a new redesign of the pier, unveiled by James Corner Field Operations—the firm behind New York's much-celebrated High Line—and nArchitects, calls for the transformation of Navy Pier into a lush urban park. Due to budgetary constraints, the updated plan is significantly scaled back from the plan outlined by Corner last year, but it promises to open up the pier and make it more inviting, providing sweeping views of the lake and city skyline.
The initial plan, which won the international design competition last year, called for the addition of a large swimming pool with a sand beach on the south side of the pier. That feature and a few others won’t be included in this first phase of construction, but several other upgrades will be include in the $176-million makeover.
Perhaps the biggest addition to the pier will be a large, curved staircase that will be flanked by a “wave wall,” providing unobstructed views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. “It will be like the Spanish Steps in Rome,” Corner told the Chicago Tribune. There is nothing remotely similar to the Spanish Steps in Navy Pier’s current formation; it’s difficult to see much of anything from the pier because the main walkways are crowded with concessions, and it’s often surrounded by large boats. Those boats will also be moved to provide clear views. The grand staircase should at the very least provide a nice seating area from which to look out on the city and the lake.
In addition to the grand staircase and wave wall, the overhaul will include plenty of new plantings throughout the pier. A new fountain for kids to splash around in, which will be transformed into an ice skating rink, will also be added. Future phases could include upgrades to the Crystal Garden, and landscape enhancements on the western side of the park. Construction is expected to begin this fall, and the first phase should be completed by summer 2015.