Helmut Jahn Unveils His Vision for Revamping Navy Pier

Celebrity architect Helmut Jahn has created a vision for redeveloping Chicago’s Navy Pier, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016.  Writing in the Chicago Tribune about Jahn’s plan, architecture critic Blair Kamin says “Yes, it’s over the top and, in all likelihood, ridiculously expensive.  But it’s full of creative sparks — precisely what was missing from the largely predictable list of recommendations made by a visiting panel of developers in conjunction with the news about the pier’s revamp.  Think of it as a conversation starter, one that kick starts the civic debate over Chicago’s first signature public work of the post-Daley era.  So what if the twisting, 2,000-foot Chicago Spire is dead?  Now, Chicago can channel every ounce of its civic energy into rebuilding and re-conceiving the ramrod straight, 3,300-foot-long pier.”

Jahn’s proposal includes the following:

  • Create a curving canopy of red steel arches topped with a tight fabric roof that would unite the pier’s diverse structures.
  • Build a two-story retail addition to the south of the pier’s existing corridors. This would follow the canopy’s curve and be topped by a lengthy skylight.
  • Expand the Dock Street pedestrian walkway to the south and add small angled piers for pleasure boats.
  • Build a 500-foot-tall Ferris wheel and orient it to the east and west.
  • Expand the park at the west end to include a 1,300 lower-level garage and build ramps to accommodate CTA buses.

“Even if his plan is a relic from the Age of Excess that’s seeing the light of day in the Age of Austerity, it sets the architectural agenda, raising design issues that other architects who vie for this plum job will invariably have to address,” Kamin said.  “A big design competition might yield fascinating ideas, yet it also might prove time-consuming and unwieldy.  If, as expected, pier officials issue a request for proposals, it will be essential that they look not only for a powerful design but also an architect who can meld the practical and the visionary.  Jahn’s heroic, imperfect plan is but a first step down that road.”