Chicago is buzzing this week about the competition to revamp Navy Pier, one of the city's top tourist attractions. In recent weeks the field of design teams competing to redesign the pier has been whittled down from the more than 50 that submitted proposals in October. In the process, big-name architects like Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid and Jeanne Gang have all been eliminated. This week, the five finalists presented their plans in Chicago, and the team headlined by AECOM and Bjarke Ingels Group is making waves for it bold, sustainability-minded vision for the pier.
Although Navy Pier is the top tourist attraction in Illinois, Chicago residents will tell you that in its current state the pier is feeling dated, kitschy and, well, cheesy. First and foremost, the AECOM/BIG proposal would open up more public, non-commercial space on the pier, and expand the space vertically. The plan calls for building a grand staircase that would lead visitors to the roof of Navy Pier’s existing buildings, where people could take in views of the skyline (which are currently obstructed by the buildings). The surface of the grand stair will be landscaped with grass, reducing the solar heat gain in the summer, and in the winter it will double as a sled hill.
Inside what is now the Crystal Gardens, the AECOM/BIG team plans to develop a vertical urban farm and juice bar that would provide food for the restaurants on the pier. Fruits and veggies would be grown in tall, sculptural pillars, which could be viewed from aerial boardwalks. The team also envisions planting skyline roof gardens on top of existing buildings. On the east end of the pier, AECOM/BIG’s plan calls for another grand stair/amphitheater, lifting one corner of the pier and lowering the other to provide horizon views and bring visitors closer to water level. Beneath the lifted amphitheater there would be a restaurant overlooking the water.
Water also plays a key role in the plan. In addition to AECOM and BIG, the team includes WET Design, a firm that specializes in dazzling fountain displays, and they’ve cooked up plans for several playful water features. And the British firm Speirs + Major is in charge of lighting. The plan adds plenty of green space to what is currently a very concrete-heavy pier. Additionally, near the entrance of the pier, AECOM/BIG have designed a rain garden with a storm water retention and filtration area.