Chicago’s New Public Spaces Inspire Great Design

Published: July 6th, 2015

Those of you who know me know how inspired I am by the genius of Chicago’s magnificent architecture. With a constant tension between the desire to build and the need to preserve, this is a city of immense innovation. Over the last few weeks, I’ve visited some of the city’s newest public spaces — the rooms and corridors of this “sweet home” — to see if they achieve the same level of greatness. They do!

Take a look at the newest extension of the River Walk along the south bank of the Chicago River.  As you wind west around a slight bend, you enter this lovely “room” with casual dining, great new seating and steps that lead directly to the river.  It’s a perfect new hangout for tourists and residents alike, many of whom congregate along large wooden benches, the backs of which serve as convenient counters for the folks with food and drink.


Old and new are also wonderfully joined by this stairway leading to the River Walk from Upper Wacker Drive.  Note the way in which the ledges of the stairway imitate the stepdown of the vintage buildings behind it.  Intentional or not, it works!


Now consider a public space of a different kind, the new “606” bike and jogging path built on the old Bloomingdale train track.  The 2 ¾-mile elevated corridor creates an urban gallery of residential views. The “hallway” cleverly joins the neighborhood “rooms” of Wicker Park and Humboldt Park to the south and Bucktown and Logan Square to the north, with small, enchanting parks along the way.  What a remarkable transformation!


My other favorite new “room” design is the space beyond the entrance to the old Wrigley Building off of Michigan Avenue, along the north side of the Chicago River.  The entry is now completely unobstructed, and the gleaming white glazed terra cotta of the landmark structure draws you into an exquisite “city-in-a-garden” core.


Last but not least, Chicago has created a new playroom for the kids!  Check out Maggie Daley Park, the 20-acre delight just east of Millennium Park.  The space is a perfect balance of excitement and calm, featuring 3 open lawn areas, picnic groves, a ¼ mile skating ribbon, climbing walls, garden paths and a myriad of play spaces such as these.



Each of these new public spaces resolve the tension between old and new, preservation and invention, with ingenuity and beauty. Who wouldn’t feel inspired by these?