Great Pier / !melk + UrbanLab + HOK

Courtesy of !melk

The competition for re-imagining Chicago’s historic Navy Pier has produced some ambitious examples of design ingenuity and innovation.  Feeding off of Daniel Burnham’s memorable quote “make no little plans”, this proposal comes from a design team led by !melkprinciple Jerry Van Eyck, UrbanLab and HOK - a series of “dramatic ideas to  reconceptualize ’s preeminent exclamation point extending from the Great Lakes to the world”.  The intention behind this proposal is to provide a dynamic place in a historic area that provides a cultural landmark as well as a world-wide attraction that stems from the geological history of the site itself.

Follow us after the break for a more in-depth look at this project.

Courtesy of !melk

Team !melk’s design proposal was inspired by the mile-thick glaciers of the last Ice Age that formed the five Great Lakes, leaving their impressions behind on the landscape throughout the region.  The “swell and swale landmarks” imprinted on the landscape leave a history of the making of the earth’s form.  Team !melk studied these unique natural phenomena and through a series of topographic waves and curls unified the landscape in relation to the revised Navy Pier.  The invented topography, derived from the accumulated physical history “creates  and opens surprising movements, social spaces, vistas, observation points, places for activities, contact with nature, and art” through open and enclosed spaces along the water’s edge.

Courtesy of !melk

Wholly inspired by the sublime nature of the Great Lakes, the proposal is an orchestrated attempt to get visitors to get closer and closer to the lakes.  The proposed design has these moves in “multiple states”, one of which is recreating a glacier – an icon of the Ice Age.  ”The icon embraces water in all its states, especially in the winter when onboard waterfalls create flows of ice freezing the tower into a glacier.  The design also features a “Fish Resort”, a larger version of the existing “fish hotel” which is an attraction to both fish and people.

Courtesy of !melk

A connection is also made through the Pier to the urban fabric.  Team !melk observes that, “currently, many people living in Chicago have the impression that Navy Pier is a far-off destination rather than a place to visit routinely,” so part of the design intention is to create interconnections of new and authentic programs that engage the reality of living in Chicago.  A new public plaza and the redesign of Gateway Park are a few of the moves made to achieve this goal.


Phasing is a critical part of this proposal as well, as economic and environmental sustainability are a top priority.  The short term goal is to create an attraction for residents that bring the Navy Pier into their daily lives, while providing something uniquely “Chicago”.

January 31st Great Pier Presentation:

View the entire proposal here. Be sure to check out PIERSCAPE / James Corner Field Operations and nARCHITECTS, Chicago Navy Pier / Team X, led by Xavier Vendrell StudioPierESCAPE / Aedas Architects, Davis Brody Bond and Martha Schwarz Partners and Pier+ / AECOM and BIG.

Cite: Vinnitskaya, Irina. "Great Pier / !melk + UrbanLab + HOK" 10 Feb 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 30 May 2015. <>
  • JamesM

    Well, I’m sold on this one. I’m not sure why though. Even though the “glacier” seems a little corny to me, I can really see that in Chicago. It’s like the anti-Bean.

    • Carol

      I love it! Being from a freezing city, I like to see it embraced. More so, the walkways are soft, subtle and beautiful. I could see taking my family for a walk there on weekends – especially if there are markets!!!

  • Neill A.

    Liking that canoe shot rendering…. rock on bro! nice design too….

  • renae

    this has been my favorite since they were released. it’s fresh and seems more realistically ambitious than the others…

  • MF

    What a competition. All of the designs show great promise; however, the !melk team design kick starts my imagination like no other. Coupled with this imaginative and inspiring approach is an underlying narrative on ecological processes and restoration. Like all great parks this design seems to visually and intellectually stimulate a diverse population.

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  • JayM

    It’s really interesting to see so many people like this design. To me it seems like a random collage of architectural gimmicks: pointless cantilevers, “strange” nurbs objects, fish textured pavements, artificial trees instead of real ones, voronoi pattern piers and an artificial glacier tower. It’s more about photoshopping pretty pictures with canoes and hot air ballons than about actually designing a living pier. I do like some parts, such as the fish resort, but in my opinion the parts just don’t add up to create a holistic design.

  • jodi

    Beautiful renderings! I was just at Navy Pier this summer (am a DC gal) and was thinking how underutilized the space was – love this team’s submission!