"Make No Little Plans": Our proposal for a new Chicago lakefront

Daniel Burnham, the architect and urban designer responsible for the 1893 World's Fair as well as for helping preserve Chicago's lakefront as an open park free of commercial development, famously said, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency."

We were recently asked to submit a design concept for the Chicago Architecture Foundation's show "Between States," running now at 224 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, in conjunction with the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Our proposal envisions a new Lake Shore Drive in the form of an enormous graceful arc that embraces the lakefront, built on new landfill east of the city. This provides a senic ride and additional public parkland. Starting at North Avenue, the roadway extends out into the lake, east of Lake Point Tower, then continues beyond Burnham Harbor to link with the existing Drive north of the Field Museum. New ribbons of bike lanes follow this arc to provide routes that bypass current bottlenecks. The lake side of the arc is lined with new beaches, piers and greenspace. Infill within the arc creates new parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and wetlands. The existing lakeside roadway is freed up to provide easy access into the city, and link the city more closely to its lakefront.

Since the theme of the show pairs Chicago with relevant built or ongoing work in another state, we chose Seattle's Waterfront development as our sister-state project. Waterfront Seattle is a multi-year program to rebuild the city's downtown waterfront following the removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. It strives to create a dynamic public realm at the water's edge by building new and improved public spaces with a lively program of activities, an intelligent and efficient transportation corridor to replace the Viaduct and the promotion of smart suitable economic development in and around the central waterfront. The program includes a rebuilding of the Elliott Bay Seawall, construction of a new surface street that provides access to and from downtown as well as new parks, paths and bay access.

The first of a pair of bridges we designed over Lake Shore Drive, that is now under construction, relates directly to this project. This lakefront redesign is a continuation of that effort to make the lakefront more accessible and beautiful.

Of course, to make effective big plans like Burnham did, one must also make little plans, and every size plan in-between. Still, Burnham's point is well taken. And a show of this nature is a good opportunity to explore large scale concepts that, while perhaps having little chance of happening within our lifetime, and especially when City and State finances are in poor condition, can still point a way forward towards a possible future.

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