Re-Imagining Chicago’s Navy Pier

The cut’s been made from 52 design firms down to 11, as Chicago’s Navy Pier looks toward its 2016 centennial with an eye toward its second reinvention in 20 years.

Among the teams making the first cut are Zaha Hadid, Xavier Vendrell, SHoP, Studio Gang, !melk, James Corner Field Operations, Jacques Ferrier Architectures, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Frederic Schwartz Architects, Aedas Architects, and Aedas Architects.

“It’s not broken,” says Steve Haemmerle, executive vice president of Navy Pier Inc. about the Midwest’s #1 tourist attraction, one that draws in nine million visitors every year.  “But we want to take a place that’s a commercial success with broad appeal and make it a more sophisticated and responsive place with good design.”

The pier was built as a port, dock and destination for cruise ships as Chicago was rapidly developing at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution.  It was among five piers envisioned for the city in Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, and the second to be built.  During both world wars, it served as a training dock, with George H. W. Bush learning to fly there.

By the late 1980s, the pier had fallen into serious disrepair, only to be reinvented as a major tourist destination by 1995.

Now, Haemmerle’s organization wants to take it up a notch. The group created a centennial vision document with goals to expand, remodel and add entertainment, then developed a “Pierscape” document outlining improvements to outdoor public spaces.

“Is it great now?” Haemmerle asks rhetorically.  “Yes.  But is it world-class?  No.”

The current 11 teams will be culled down to five finalists by Thanksgiving.  That group will be asked to develop design schemes by the end of January 2012, with presentations on the last day the month, and final selection sometime in February.

“We want to look at and think about the Navy Pier through a more contemporary lens,” he said.  “We want to give it a broader, more sophisticated appeal and to make it a powerful place.”

With a list of semifinalists of the caliber he’s selected, it’s hard to see how that can’t happen in this, the city of the big shoulders.

For more on the competition, go to

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