Located just east of Millennium Park, and connected by Frank Gehry’s serpentine BP bridge, Grant Park North is getting a dramatic makeover by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA). While Millennium Park draws on Beaux Arts planning, the Van Valkenburg design follows the curving lines established by Gehry’s footbridge. “You can fold more program into curving geometries,” said Matthew Urbanski, a principal at MVVA.
The park is being rebuilt following the repair of a below grade waterproof membrane, which protects an underground parking garage. Grant Park North will emphasize active year round recreation, with a “skating ribbon,” an ice path that threads throughout the landscape, as well as an artificial climbing mountain. “You’ll have a very different experience from a conventional skating rink,” he said. “We’re planting evergreens that be interspersed along folds of the ribbon.” The climbing mountain will also add to the variety of activities along the lakefront. “Vigorous activity makes parks usable in cold weather.”
While much of the lakefront parklands is flat, MVVA’s design calls for a more undulating topography with bowl-shaped hills to create more intimate gathering spaces within the park. And while most of the Grant Park North’s lines will be curvilinear, the design subtly refers to the city grid as well, with a regular matrix of high light poles that will bath the entire park in an even “moonlight,” Urbanski said. “In the summer, nighttime is the best time to be outside, especially with the breezes coming off the lake,” he said. Urbanski hopes the park will be a draw for tourists and visitors, but also serve as a neighborhood park for the growing number of residents in the Loop and Lakeshore East.