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First Class Talent

Chicago culls its O’Hare expansion shortlist to five big-name firms
Five finalists have been selected in the competition to design the new $8.7 billion expansion of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, narrowing the field from the longlist of 12 released in September. The shortlist features a mix of local names and international studios: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Santiago Calatrava, Foster + Partners, Chicago’s own Studio Gang, and Colorado’s Fentress Architects. The expansion, part of a modernization initiative dubbed O’Hare 21 by outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel, will totally replace the V-shaped Terminal 2, a holdover from the airport’s opening in 1944. O’Hare is one of the busiest airports in the world and currently services nearly 80 million passengers a year, and O’Hare 21 will expand the airport’s footprint from 5.5 million square feet to 8.9 million square feet. Such a large project means that these teams likely won’t be going it alone. Fentress is joined by Brook Architecture, Garza Architects, and engineering and architecture firm EXP, Calatrava will be working with local firm HKS, while Foster + Partners has teamed up with local firms Epstein and JGMA, and Studio Gang has partnered with Corgan Associates, Solomon Cordwell Buenz, and STL Architects. SOM will also be joined by Ross Barney Architects and Arup in their bid. After a review by the Department of Aviation, one team will be chosen to design the Terminal 2–replacing O’Hare Global Terminal, while a second will be tapped to design the airport’s two new satellite concourses. Perhaps what’s most interesting is who didn’t make the cut. BIG was knocked out, as were HOK and Gensler. Even Helmut Jahn, a Chicago wunderkind who designed O’Hare’s Terminal 1 in 1986, wasn’t chosen. Now that the shortlist has been chosen, an official selection committee of business, civic, and transportation leaders from Chicago will choose who ultimately gets to design the new facilities (with local architecture firms and cultural institutions providing technical support). Mayor Emanuel is pushing the city to choose before he leaves in May of 2019, and if all goes as planned, the multi-phase O’Hare 21 should be complete by 2026.
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Detroit's Tall Tale

Detroit to host Michigan’s tallest building at former Hudson’s site
The former Hudson's site at 1206 Woodward Avenue in Detroit will soon be host to Michigan’s tallest building. Designed by SHoP Architects, the development will top off at 912 feet, tying One Prudential Plaza in Chicago for the title of the 32nd tallest building in the United States. Previously expected to rise to only 800 feet, the structure will be a full 200 feet taller than the Renaissance Center, Detroit’s current tallest. SHoP’s newly released design drawings feature a stepped tower, scrapping the previous plans for an observation deck. “Stepping allows for terraces for amenities and possible hospitality spaces," said Bill Sharples of SHoP Architects on the updated plans. "The addition of new programming in the latest iteration of the design allowed us as architects and designers to break down the scale of the tower even further, and to approach it even more holistically, something we have been conscious of since the beginning of the project." The 1.4 million square foot development, which includes a twelve-story podium structure in addition to the tower, will be mixed use. The podium will house office, event, and exhibition space, while the tower will house hotel and residential units. Seven hundred parking spaces will be located within an underground garage. The development intends to link retail on Woodward Avenue with cultural destinations near the Detroit Public Library. Bedrock LLC was chosen as the developer in 2013 via an invited completion to study the potential to develop the former site of the flagship J.L. Hudson department store, and the firm has developed the site along with SHoP and Hamilton Anderson Associates of Detroit. The project will be partially financed through tax breaks to Bedrock via the Michigan Strategic Fund, as well as the MIThrive Initiative. The structure intended for the Hudson's site is one of four in the works for Bedrock that will be working with these programs. Built in stages from 1911 to 1946, the Hudson's flagship building on Woodward Avenue was once the tallest department store in the world at 25 stories. The store closed in 1983 and the building was demolished in 1998. A portion of the basement of the original structure was used for parking at the site until Bedrock broke ground on the new structure in December 2017. The new structure is not expected to show any verticality for another fourteen months.
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Round and Round...

Allied Works and OLIN team up to complete a spiraling veterans museum
The concrete-wrapped National Veterans Memorial and Museum (NVMM) in Columbus, Ohio, is now complete and open to the public. Rather than a traditional museum focused solely on exhibitions, the NVMM was envisioned as a memorial to departed veterans, a place of education, and as a gathering place for civic and commemorative events. The NVMM, sited right on the banks of the Scioto River, integrates a contemplative OLIN-designed landscape with the Allied Works Architecture–designed two-story, 53,000-square-foot museum building. The round museum building features a distinctive cross-braced concrete facade over the main entrance—a motif repeated across the interior walls—which symbolically elevates a rooftop sanctuary plaza. The skyline of downtown Columbus looms over the sanctuary, but the plaza is meant to be for reflection, events, and ceremonies exclusively. The sanctuary, which resembles a sunken amphitheater ringed by greenspace, can be accessed from inside the museum, or by traveling up a sloping concrete ramp that wraps around the building. Inside, the museum’s exhibition spaces have been ringed around the perimeter of the building, affording plenty of natural light and views of the surrounding waterfront. Past the ground floor lobby, a great hall offers views of the city as well as a place for gatherings and other events. The NVMM’s programming, laid out by the creative agency Ralph Appelbaum Associates with the Veterans Advisory Committee, uses the museum’s circular structure to guide visitors through a storyline designed to connect them with veterans’ experiences. Films, sculptures, photos, and quotes from veterans are included throughout each phase of the story: leaving home, being in service, returning, and becoming a veteran. On the second floor, guests will find a remembrance gallery dedicated to veterans who have lost their lives and an entrance to the sanctuary plaza, connecting the building’s external structure to the internal features. Outside, OLIN has designed a walkable landscape around the museum, including a circular path leading to a similarly-round memorial grove at its core. The grove has been bounded by a stacked-stone wall and several waterfall fountains that feed an illuminated reflecting pool below. The design, development, and construction of the museum, as well as the push to have it designated as a national site, was led by the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation. The NVMM is the country’s first national veterans museum, and as the project grew in scope, it eventually grew to include narratives and artifacts from veterans across every branch of the military and every state.
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Brutal Demise

University of Cincinnati plans to demolish the brutalist Crosley Tower
The University of Cincinnati's Crosley Tower, a 16-story concrete brutalist structure designed by local firm A.M. Kinney, is slated for demolition. The tower, which was initially built for chemistry and biology labs in 1969, has fallen into a state of near-disrepair, according to university officials, and its inflexible cruciform design means that it can’t be readily adapted to new uses or renovated. Around 2010, the facade began to spall, with concrete hailing down into the surrounding plaza, forcing major resurfacing as well as the addition of protective barriers. To make matters worse, faculty members report leaking ceilings and faulty elevators. University officials state that the additional protections and changes only bought about another decade for the building before it again could begin to crumble and need further work, and officials have opted for demolition instead. The precise method of tearing down the tower has yet to be decided. There has been a proposal to methodically disassemble the building from the top down with jackhammers, as well as the more dramatic proposal of a controlled implosion. In advance of its destruction, the university is working to make headway on a new building to make up the lost space. https://twitter.com/TowerCrosley/status/1055135663681667072 While often such brutalist structures, so common at U.S. universities, draw the ire of those with aesthetic oppositions, Dale Beeler, the university's director of project management, told the student-run newspaper The News Record that “[It’s] nothing personal about the building—it just doesn’t warrant the physical expenditures that would bring it into the next 30 or 40 years.” Of course, not everyone is taking the demolition lying down—a Twitter account speaking as a personified version of the doomed tower was made this past spring with the hashtag #DefendCrosleyTower.
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Back to the Drawing Board

SOM’s proposed megatower on the Chicago Spire site rejected by alderman
Acting on behalf of his Streeterville constituents, Chicago’s 42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly has rejected Related Midwest’s current plan to build on the former site of the Chicago Spire. Last spring, the developer announced its intention to construct two stepped towers just west of Lake Shore Drive, one reaching the height of 1,100 feet, with 300 condominium units and 175 luxury hotel rooms, and another 850-foot tower with 550 residential units. Designed by David Childs with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the two towers at 400 North Lake Shore Drive would sit on a four-story plinth and would open out at a skewed angle to Lake Michigan. In addition, Related Midwest committed to the long-awaited completion of DuSable Park as well as extending the Riverwalk under Lake Shore Drive and out to the lakefront, with a public esplanade running along the Ogden Slip just north of the site. According to an email sent to his constituents, Alderman Reilly contacted the development team at Related Midwest in August, articulating various concerns voiced by residents during meetings between condominium associations and the developer. Related Midwest responded, but according to Alderman Reilly, failed to address the major concerns about their proposal.  The project will need a zoning change and aldermanic approval before it goes to construction. “I always strive to negotiate positive outcomes when considering development proposals,” the alderman noted in the email. “As with any project, my ultimate goal is to strike a fair balance and approve responsible projects that will be successful for the owners, while enhancing the character and vitality of the surrounding neighborhood.” Residents have asked for the complete elimination of the hotel use and a reduction of the podium height and bulk, and have voiced the need for the project to address traffic issues. Of primary concern is access to the site via East North Water Street, a significant aspect of the design that nearby residents have asked to be restricted, effectively requiring a redesign of the primary entrance to the structure. Residents have also asked for the developer to make greater use of the Lake Shore Drive access ramp system and below-grade parking systems to manage deliveries, service vehicles, and pedestrian pick-ups and drop-offs, away from residential development to the west, and tucked under Lake Shore Drive. Constituents have also asked for the project to address the public space components of the project, including the elimination of a public esplanade along the Ogden Slip, a dredged body of water that runs parallel to the north branch of the Chicago River. Related Midwest must also create a security plan for DuSable Park and the Riverwalk connection. Construction of DuSable Park, the promenade at the Ogden Slip and the extension of the Riverwalk to the lakefront are components to the Cityfront Center Master Plan, approved by the City Council in 1985. Cityfront Center would encourage residential and commercial building between Navy Pier and North Michigan Avenue but would leave the developer responsible for public works improvements, many of which have yet to be completed.  The time it has taken to complete the public space components, many of which were promised under Mayor Harold Washington’s administration, raises questions as far as the effectiveness of privatizing public space. While Streeterville includes some of Chicago’s tallest skyscrapers, the blocks immediately surrounding the former Spire site are defined by lower height residential structures, including the Riverview Townhomes at three stories, and the Lofts at River East at six. The rejection of the current plan for 400 North Lake Shore Drive comes at a time where several large developments announced with fanfare this past spring are being examined closely by neighborhood residents and their elected ward leaders, including the 78 in the South Loop, and Lincoln Yards between Lincoln Park and Bucktown. Alderman Reilly recently approved an update of the plans to redevelop Union Station after the first version of the development was lauded by neighbors and preservationists.
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Rahm for Improvement

What will be Rahm Emanuel’s legacy on Chicago’s architecture?
On the eve of the beginning of the trial for Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer charged with (and since convicted of) killing Laquan McDonald, Rahm Emanuel, two-term Chicago mayor, announced that he would not be running for a third term. Citing the need to spend more time with his family, Mayor Emanuel tearfully lamented of his time as mayor: “This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime.” Yet, for Chicagoans, Emanuel’s two terms feel like enough to fill multiple lifetimes, both with development projects and architectural optimism, as well as what he will likely be known for: the decision to close 50 neighborhood public schools in 2013, many of which sit vacant and unsold five years later. Under his watch, Chicago became an infrastructure and design-driven cultural hub, with the first iteration of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Chicago Riverwalk, the 606, and the maturation of Millennium Park into a legitimate tourist destination. Emanuel appeared on broadcast television to proclaim that Chicago was a “Trump-free zone,” yet the president’s name is saliently plastered to the side of a skyscraper in 20-foot-tall letters, a blunder approved by the zoning administrator and the alderman, catching the mayor’s attention only after an architectural outcry. A former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, Emanuel would work hard on the national stage to present himself as the antithesis of Donald Trump yet kept largely quiet about it at home. There was the risible focus on assisting Elon Musk with his rapid transit link to O’Hare Airport, and the sideshow-style hawking of sites for Amazon’s HQ2. Then there were the bombastic press releases, the development of Lincoln Yards, the 78-acre mega-development, and the promise that Chicago would deliver the Obama Presidential Center to Jackson Park. Yet among all of these high-profile projects, Emanuel seemed to love the glamour of developer-driven neighborhood projects most of all. The Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Ordinance of 2015 supercharged the construction of bigger, denser residential buildings along Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) lines, changing the architectural character of some neighborhoods and flushing each neighborhood with micro apartments of questionable affordability and access. The Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program provided surges of cash to neighborhoods but seemed woefully out of touch with its original intent—to subsidize development in underserved neighborhoods—when funds were used to renovate downtown’s Navy Pier. With regard to Chicago’s historic built environment, Emanuel has made a lot of lofty promises that will be tough for the next mayor to fulfill. In 2017 he announced that he would encourage landmark status for the Legacy Walk in Boystown, a half-mile-long outdoor LGBT history exhibit constructed in 1998, which could be a hard sell to the city council due to its newness and obvious political motivations, as the announcement was made during Chicago Pride. While this could be considered a radical move, older, more vulnerable landmarks of cultural heritage, like sites that assist in telling the narrative of the Black Panther Party in Chicago, have yet to be considered for landmarking. Last year, Emanuel also announced that he would block the sale of the postmodern James R. Thompson Center by the State of Illinois out of fear of having to replace the CTA station beneath it but will not take a stance otherwise on the future of the building or its architectural significance. Attempts to restore the perennially threatened Uptown Theatre have stalled and sputtered under Emanuel’s tenure, including the creation of a nonprofit in 2011 to back a public-private partnership to lead the renovation, which ultimately failed. This past summer, Emanuel announced yet again that the Uptown would be restored using a combination of TIF funds and private investment, handing the responsibility to whoever is elected in February of 2019. Emanuel thought big, but also blew it big, and the success of his ideas and the legacy of his failures lie on the shoulders of the next administration, which may take a different direction entirely—perhaps toward neighborhood-led initiatives and on a smaller scale, working to improve parts of the whole—or continue to champion grandiose civic projects. The announcement that Emanuel will not seek a third term scrambles an already crowded field of candidates and piques the interest of new contenders who now believe that they have a shot at defining how Chicago presents itself in the 21st century. We will see how a new mayor designs it, builds it, and tears it down.
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Something old, something new

The 57th Carnegie International digs where it stands
Within the last three months, two rustbelt cities have opened international art exhibitions. Cleveland, Ohio, debuted FRONT International in July, and this weekend Pittsburgh opened its 57th Carnegie International. While FRONT sends artists and art-tourists into sites throughout the city, this year’s Carnegie International keeps its art in and around its own house. The exhibition draws visitors to Andrew Carnegie’s immense, turn-of-the-century building—a complex with two museums, a concert hall, and library all under one roof—and proves that its long institutional history is a fertile ground for provocative new work. The notion of an “international” exhibition perhaps still conjures the hubris of the industrialist who founded the show in 1896 to identify the “old masters of tomorrow.” But this year’s curators, Ingrid Schaffner along with Liz Park and Ashley McNelis, aimed to use the exhibition to spark “museum joy.” The curatorial joy is certainly contagious, evident even in the team’s abolition of wall texts, which Schaffner denounces in favor of a bound book developed with Dancing Fox Press that hearkens back to a 19th-century travel guide. By saturating the building with new artwork, the 57th Carnegie International strives to construct new narratives and celebrate the art as a lived experience with architectural and artistic juxtapositions. The exhibition may be bounded by the museum walls, but the 32 artists and collectives, as well as one independent exhibition maker have taken it upon themselves to respond to Pittsburgh’s local histories and regional conditions that still have international resonance. The 57th Carnegie International is open now through March 25, 2019. Admission is free with tickets to the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History.
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Tulsa's Tree Kingdom

Michael Van Valkenburgh transforms Tulsa’s riverfront into a fantastical green parkland
The Gathering Place, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s newest public park, is anything but basic. Opened in early September, the 66.5-acre riverside landscape looks more like an ultra-green theme park than a typical urban park with trees thrown in for shade. Designed by landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), the $465 million project was dreamed up by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and backed by over 80 other local corporate and philanthropic donors. It’s located just 2 miles from downtown Tulsa on a formerly flat, scorching site along the Arkansas River. After four years of the first phase of construction, it’s now one of the city’s greatest amenities, providing spots for sport, relaxation, and water play underneath a sprawling tree canopy and atop grassy open lawns. MVVA transformed the topography of the existing site by creating various elevated landscapes and other sunken spaces with access to water. The firm also accentuated the native ecologies of the parkland and introduced wetlands, meadows, streams, and dry areas that inspire different types of interaction with nature. Thick logs for seating, fingerlike tree trunks for gathering, and local stone used for walls and mazes were additionally incorporated to connect the landscape as a whole and link it to the surrounding region. While the park boasts threads of regional bike trails, courts for ball-handling sports, and 21 points of entry and exit, it’s the surprising structural elements of play that make it stand out. MVVA designed a 5-acre adventure playground for kids age two to 12 that features seven thematic spaces: Volcanoville, The Land of the River Giants, Royal Tower, Fairy Land Forest, The Ramble, Spiral Connector, and Mist Mountain. According to the architects, these play areas are “boldly expressive and richly programmed,” with normal playground elements such as towers, suspension bridges, and slides, but also fantastic designs like climbable, large-scale animals, flowers, and fruit. Many of the play accessories are clad in steel as well as timber imported from the Alps. Accessibility is a key component of The Gathering Place. MVVA describes the guiding vision of the park to be a democratic space where all Tulsans can come together and experience an array of physically challenging and leisurely activities. Children in wheelchairs can easily access the playscapes through elongated ramps on all of the structures, like the giant, wood-slatted elephant with a truncated slide. The park also includes a pond and boathouse where families can check out kayaks, canoes, and paddle boats. A coffee and ice cream cafe, as well as a dining patio and other picnic areas are situated in the northern part of the parkland near the play spaces to encourage extended stay. Toward the park’s south side, MVVA designed the Sky Garden and Four Season Garden, as well as Swing Hill, situated on the highest point of The Gathering Place with prime views of downtown Tulsa. At the farthest end of the park, visitors can enjoy courts for basketball, volleyball, street hockey, and soccer, or ride over to the skateboard and bike park, which offers courses for all ages and levels. A 50,000-square-foot children’s science museum will also be constructed in this area, coming late summer 2020. Phases 2 and 3 of construction, beginning next spring, will bring the park to a total of 100 acres.
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Oh my Omaha

Snøhetta to design expansion to the Joslyn Art Museum in Nebraska
Snøhetta has been tapped to design a major expansion to the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. As one of the city and state’s leading arts institutions, the new Joslyn will become a 21st-century cultural destination with increased gallery space, more public programming, and room for arts education opportunities. The Oslo- and New York-based firm will create a masterplan for the museum with a new building designed to “complement and enhance” the original structures on site: the Memorial Building, built in 1931, and the Walter and Suzanne Scott Pavilion, which was designed by Sir Norman Foster and completed in 1994. Craig Dykers, principal of Snøhetta, is proud to work on a project with such a deep cultural heritage that’s rooted in its geography. “Omaha’s place in the great landscape of the American West is a wonderful inspiration to us,” he said in a statement. “Together with Joslyn’s rich collections of art spanning the globe and its dynamic relationship with the communities that sustain it create a powerful platform to begin designing the next phase of its life, for future generations.” The addition of new galleries to the Museum will allow more room for its growing collections and give existing buildings the space to display art that they previously couldn't. This will include work from the museum's historic and contemporary Indigenous collections, which will be further supported by a newly appointed curator of Native American art. The Joslyn, which is free, has seen an increase in admission over the past decade. This expansion may help bring it even more into the global stage of 21st century art institutions. 
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Making Waves

The Global Hub’s undulating facade turns toward Lake Michigan for inspiration
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The newest major addition to Northwestern University in Chicagoland, the 415,000 square-foot Kellogg School of Management’s Global Hub, establishes a formidable cornerstone for the campus’s border with Lake Michigan. KPMB Architects, a Toronto-based firm with a significant background in sustainable institutional design, addressed the region’s weather extremes with a well-executed layout and an undulating triple-glazed glass curtain wall.
  • Facade Manufacturer Guardian Glass, Interpane Glass, Coil (aluminum mullions), Bison (wood decking)
  • Architects KPMB Architects
  • Facade Installer Ventana Design-Build Systems, Power Construction
  • Facade Consultants Thornton Tomasetti
  • Location Evanston, Illinois
  • Date of Completion 2017
  • System A concrete system with glass curtain wall panels
  • Products Guardian Glass SNR-43, Interpane Glass 46/31
According to Senior Associate Kevin Thomas, the first inspiration for the building’s six-story curvilinear form is the rolling movement stemming from the adjacent Lake Michigan. The nearby shoreline stabilization system, composed of boulders and precast concrete, has been consistently smoothed over by wave patterns. For KPMB, “the use of glass helps break down the mass of the large structure while maximizing visual connections to the adjacent lake and Chicago skyline." The 160,000 square-foot curtain wall is designed with horizontal and vertical anodized aluminum mullions, and a reflective glass coating. While sections of the facade are curved, the design team worked closely with the manufacturer to incorporate narrow curtain wall modules and vertical glass fins at every frame to blur hard edges. Each triple-glazed glass panel is tied to the structural frame with modified steel angles painted to match the curtain wall and aluminum anchor hooks. The result is a sweeping surface that simultaneously reflects other wings of the building and the ever-changing environmental conditions. Although glass panels of various sizes are the primary material element, KPMB Architects added certain details to diversify the dominating blue-green color palette. The elevations are unified by reddish-brown Brazilian walnut soffits that crest and wrap around the building. Brazilian walnut, a hardwood, was chosen for its durability and minimal maintenance. The Global Hub’s layout consists of four wings, perceived by the design team as independent buildings, rotating around a centrally placed atrium. Swooping white balconies, interconnected by pale-yellow wood bridges and an expansive two-story stairwell, are the main conduits of interior circulation. The glass curtain wall and a band of rooftop clerestories, clad with high-performance translucent glazing, flood the interior with natural light without significantly producing thermal heat. The project, part of KPMB Architects' long-running collaboration with Transsolar KlimaEngineering, was designed with a number of features to boost environmental performance. These measures include a geothermal energy system embedded beneath an adjacent football field, a ventilation system that circulates fresh air, and an automated shading system. In 2018, the Global Hub received LEED platinum certification.
 
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Chi-Lite-Bright

Art on theMART turns Chicago’s Merchandise Mart into an architectural canvas
Until the end of 2018, the façade of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart will become the world’s largest digital art projection, hosting the work of four artists for two hours each on Wednesday through Sunday evenings. Thirty-four projectors located across the Chicago River from The Mart, as the structure is informally called, will work in tandem to project images on the hulking façade of what was once the world's largest building. Art on theMART is a privately funded partnership with the City of Chicago, and marks the first time that a projection of this size is being used exclusively for a creative purpose. The project has no advertising backing or sponsorship, but includes a curatorial advisory board established to consult on all content. Additionally, a civic advisory committee allows communication between city agencies, stakeholders, and the public. Created by large-scale architectural projection mappers Obscura Digital, the technology that supports Art on theMART allows curators and artists to upload an image and select effects and filters, but leaves the software to process the image and slowly render and resolve it over the course of a customizable time period. The projector housing is built into the Chicago Riverwalk, and the projectors are individually calibrated to adjust the light and color over the structure’s façade—a complex combination of fenestration, vertical lines, and setbacks. Windows are masked out in the software, allowing activity to continue inside the building without light interruptions.
 
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Four artists have been tapped to show work until the end of the year. The opening program features a projection by artist Diana Thater, who has mixed together live footage of wild animals living near Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya. Zheng Chongbin’s work, Chimeric Landscape, will project expanding and contracting ink blots. Jason Salavon remixes art and design histories from Georgia O’Keefe to internet cat videos, and Jan Tichy will present Artes in Horto - Seven Gardens for Chicago. Completed in 1931 by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White for Marshall Field & Company, Merchandise Mart consolidated the Chicago department store’s 13 separate warehouses into one massive art deco structure on the north branch of the Chicago River and central to downtown. Jenny Holzer was the first artist to illuminate the building in 2008, when she projected a poem onto it during Art Chicago.
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The Future is Green

Major investment coming to Detroit and Buffalo’s waterfront park projects
As Detroit and Buffalo get set to take on two transformative park projects along their respective waterfronts, both cities have been generously backed by a philanthropic organization aiming to enhance green space and bolster community engagement. Today, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced its pledge to invest over $1.2 billion in the cities by 2035 in honor of its founder, the Buffalo Bills’ late owner, and his centennial birthday. The Foundation is making a sizable donation to Western New York and Southeast Michigan—the two areas Wilson loved most—by committing a combined $200 million for upgraded parks and 250 miles of trails in the regions. A large chunk of that change will go directly to revitalizing LaSalle Park in Buffalo and West Riverfront Park in Detroit. With a design already envisioned by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) and David Adjaye, the latter parkland will give Michiganites long-desired, tangible access to the Detroit River. Though the 77-acre LaSalle Park has stretched across Lake Erie’s edge since the 1930s, it’s massive potential for further beautification and elevated programming could increase the quality of life for Buffalo residents and beyond. Dave Enger, president of the Foundation, stressed that community involvement is the key to taking on these monumental landscape goals. “Foundations don’t build parks, communities do,” he said. “Our vision is really to support these wonderful projects and the people that have the vision.” The design process is well underway for West Riverfront Park in downtown Detroit. Situated atop a former industrial piece of land, the 22-acre parkland will be a year-round destination for fishing, skating or swimming, sports, entertainment, and family gatherings. MVVA’s proposal was chosen over 80 other submissions in an international design competition to reimagine the park, which was transferred from private ownership to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy in 2014. Since their master plan was selected earlier this spring, MVVA has worked alongside the Conservancy and the Detroit Mayor’s office to garner feedback from locals and find out their personal ambitions for the park. The firm’s principal, Michael Van Valkenburgh, said his team especially loved talking to people aged 60 and older about their childhoods in Detroit—the places they loved and why. For many, the secluded Belle Isle was the only locale they could go to enjoy green space and the river at the same time. But that’s about to change thanks to these new ideas for downtown. “Not every place in Detroit has what New York’s Brooklyn Bridge Park offers—a way to touch the water and put your toes in,” said Van Valkenburgh. “Because Detroit is so vast horizontally, we knew needed to add shock and awe to the design to get Detroiters who were far away to come to the water. Michiganders feel defined by and proud that the state is surrounded on three sides by the Great Lakes. We thought giving access to the water, through this cove and beach creation, would be a big draw.” A construction start date hasn’t yet been announced for West Riverfront Park, but officials estimate it will be complete by 2022. Van Valkenburgh is sure the master plan will go through many design iterations before ground is broken and he’s excited about more community input. “I’ve been going to public meetings since 1990,” he said. “These have been the most uplifting public meetings I’ve ever been a part of. People come with a real sense that this park is going to be a big lift for the city. They really want it.” At the other end of Lake Erie is LaSalle Park in Buffalo. Though it’s a long-loved and well-utilized community treasure, city stakeholders agree that it could use significant improvements. In 1998, the city conducted a planning review to overhaul the expansive parkland and identify priorities for a new design and upgraded programming. That vision was never realized until the Regional Institute at the University of Buffalo began researching its history and surveying people through a project called Imagine LaSalle. A focus group even spent this summer exploring the park and visiting other famous green spaces in Chicago, Cincinnati, and New York for inspiration. “The feedback has been tremendous so far,” said Brendan Mehaffey, executive director for the city’s Office of Strategic Planning. “Part of the mayoral administration’s core values is inclusion so we’ve talked to people from all backgrounds including low-income individuals, young professionals, business owners, and more.” Community engagement is at the heart of both efforts in Buffalo and Detroit. Much like Imagine LaSalle, MVVA also transported a busload of teenagers to visit their Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, and other groups went to New York and Philadelphia. Mehaffey sees the connection between the two waterfront park projects, and the two cities in general, as vital to their respective successes. “The Detroit team is much further into the design process than we are, so we’re delving into their research to try and discover best practices for building our own LaSalle Park,” he said. “I think that commonality between us is part of what the Wilson Foundation’s statement is going to make to the country.” Enger also believes the two cities are inextricably important to one another—that’s why his organization has zeroed in on their combined futures. He emphasized that spurring economic development through green space is a key way to democratize the municipalities on a greater level. “Where else in the United States are you going to find world-class parks in post-industrial cities that overlook international border crossings and feature some of the most magnificent sunrises and sunsets?" he said. "We think the total leverage of this project will be far greater than what our investment will bring.”