PROJECT STATEMENT: The Lurie Garden is a 3-acre, rooftop garden in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park. The Garden expresses Chicago’s distinct, urban landscape history as a bold, contemporary landmark that also offers quiet respite for people and urban wildlife. It distinguishes itself from other Millennium Park attractions by utilizing the media of plants and natural materials to create a memorable cultural experience. The design celebrates the built-up, engineered landscape of the Garden site and the City of Chicago.
Project Location, Scope and Size
The Lurie Garden brings a new, 3-acre public botanical garden to downtown Chicago. The garden is sited in Millennium Park, an ambitious new segment of Grant Park. The site is between a new bandshell by Frank O. Gehry & Associates and a new addition to the Chicago Art Institute by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. The entire garden is constructed over the roof deck of the Lakefront Millennium Parking Garage.
Site and Context Investigation
Chicago built itself up from marshy origins and continues to rise ambitiously skyward. A refinement of nature and natural resources has accompanied Chicago’s willful development. Similarly, the site of the Lurie Garden has been built up over time. It has been elevated from wild shoreline, to railroad yard, to parking garage, to roof garden. Lurie Garden celebrates the exciting contrast between the past and present that lay within this site.
The strong grid layout of Chicago’s streets highlights striking physical features that are not orthogonal. Railways form sensuous braids that merge and swell through the grid. Angled roads radiate out of Chicago like crooked spokes from Grant Park’s location in the center of the city. The paths and other forms of the Lurie Garden, and their relationships to the formal grid structure of Grant Park, are inspired by these patterns and by the strong forms of Chicago’s bold, urban, and Midwestern landscape.
The Lurie Garden continues the precedent of Grant Park’s “rooms” with treed enclosures, perimeter circulation, and axial views; it expresses these qualities in forms that are distinct to the Garden’s special site and context.
In addition to these historic and infrastructural influences, the designers also had to take into account the large crowds of up to 10,000 people that pass through the Lurie Garden as they exit the Great Lawn after concerts, on their way to two elevator pavilions on the south side of the site.
Design Program and Intent
The Lurie Garden’s design concept responds to the rich history of the site and the city by conceptualizing and expressing the present and future of Chicago. The contrasting eras of Chicago’s landscape are made evident in sculpted landform and plant growth.
A giant, muscular hedge encloses the interior garden from the north and west. From the Art Institute, the “big shoulders” of the Shoulder Hedge appear to support the gleaming “headdress” of Gehry’s Bandshell to the north.
The Shoulder Hedge is a living wall that protects the garden’s interior from heavy pedestrian traffic, especially after concerts on the adjacent Great Lawn. It is structured by a metal framework, or Armature, that shapes several varieties of plants into one monumental hedge feature. Like a distant ridge in an open Midwestern landscape, the Hedge is a horizon that defines the bright foreground of the garden interior.
Within the Shoulder Hedge, the garden has two interior “Plates” that are planted with perennials and trees. The convex plates seem to be “punched up” from below by Chicago’s ambitious, upward force. The two plates each have their own form but combine to resemble a muscular torso. The plates, called the Dark Plate and Light Plate, strongly contrast with each other. The Dark Plate, referencing the marshy, mysterious past of the site and city, immerses people in the landscape. Visitors can experience this dream-like immersion in a swollen volume of robust plants and earthform. The Light Plate, referencing Chicago’s modern and artistic control of nature, offers control and prospect. The raised pathways and lower sweeps of plantings provide an exhilarating experience of surveying a bright and clean, controlled landscape.
The Seam is the boundary between the two plates. It is composed of a boardwalk that “floats” over a shallow water feature. The orientation of the Seam expresses the angle of the various historic retaining walls beneath the site, which created boundaries between the lake and the land. The seam represents Chicago’s historic, first effort to rise from the challenges of its marshy landscape: wooden boardwalks. These structures enabled the city to begin the process of raising its streets and buildings from the water. One crosses the Seam in order to move from the wild immersion of the Dark Plate to the controlled empowerment of the Light Plate.
Materials and Installation Methods
The Lurie Garden is built over-structure and due to load restrictions, the landforms were built-up using lightweight geofoam under the soil.
The Garden uses two types of stone for both paving and wall cladding. Limestone from a local Midwestern quarry, is used for all curbing, stone stairs, stair landings, wall coping, and wall cladding in the interior of the Garden. The limestone has either a “saw cut” (all vertical surfaces) or a “Modified Rock-Face” (all horizontal surfaces) finish. Granite is used as paving and wall veneer in the water feature and the Dark Plate. All exposed granite surfaces have a flamed finish.
The Seam boardwalk and all wood benches in the Garden are fabricated from FSC-certified Ipe.
The three primary types of metal used in the Garden are patinized Naval Brass (all metal plates in the Seam), patinized architectural bronze (all handrails), and powdercoated steel (the Armature).
Environmental Impact and Concerns
The Lurie Garden is a model of sustainable design. Built over the lid of an underground parking garage, the Garden reclaims three acres of land in downtown Chicago. The focus of the design is Chicago’s history and this was articulated through the extensive use of locally-grown native plants and local stones. The use of native plants is a constant reference to Chicago’s place within the Midwestern prairie. All limestone, the most visible stone in the garden, is from a local, Midwestern quarry. Additionally, the Shoulder Hedge serves as an important “hedgerow” shelter for birds and other local wildlife.
Collaboration with the Client and Other Designers
The Lurie Garden was the winning design in a competition held by the City of Chicago, Millennium Park, Inc, and the Driehaus Foundation. The client was Millennium Park, Inc. The client directed and supported the designers in developing and executing the intent of the selected competition design.
The landscape architects collaborated with a world-renowned perennial plantsman in developing and executing the detailed perennial plantings for the two Plates.
In addition the landscape architects collaborated with a well-regarded theater set designer who assisted with conceptual review, ensuring that the thematic and metaphorical qualities of the design were maintained through every aspect of the project.
Perennial Planting Design:
Northwind Perennial Farms
Local Landscape Architect:
Terry Guen Design Associates, Inc.
Structural and Civil Engineer:
KPFF Consulting Engineers
Jeffrey L. Bruce & Company, LLC
Mechanical and Electrical Engineer:
Schuler & Shook, Inc.
Water Feature Design Consultant:
Parking Garage Engineer:
McDonough Associates, Inc.
Davis Langdon Adamson
designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd and available through Landscape Forms
Visor Open Air Luminaire by Erco
Mankato Kasota limestone by Mankato Kasota
Rayon Blue Granite by Associated Imports (contact: Mark.Chacon@associatedimports.com)