For Andy Tinucci, principal of Woodhouse Tinucci Architects, the restoration of Rosewood Beach in Highland Park, Illinois wasn’t about the architecture he was tasked with designing. It was about the journey—and the view.
Starting at the south end of the beach, a series of low-profile pavilions clad in all natural materials grows out of the boardwalk and leads visitors past three distinct beach coves, with the Lake Michigan horizon to the east as the primary view. A bluff rises on the west.
Using the outside as a corridor, Tinucci planned four pavilions along a meandering boardwalk to house a concession stand, a lifeguard station, restrooms, and a multipurpose interpretive center. They occupy a small footprint and are sheathed in naturally graying cedar and a dark gray limestone from southern Wisconsin to seamlessly blend into the bluff.
Tinucci said he kept the buildings low and simple to preserve the views of the lake and bluff. The Chicago-based architecture firm could have built anything on the narrow sliver of space between the two natural elements.
“Buildings aren’t as important on this site,” said Tinucci. “You want the path and the journey of the beautiful view. And that’s how the architecture responds.”
At 1,500 square feet long, the boardwalk—the most prominent architectural element on the beach—responds congruously. Made of sustainably harvested ipe wood, it offers a place of respite for passive beachgoers as it morphs into integrated benches and a sloping wall that is an open invitation for lounging sunbathers. “The boardwalk folds up and out of itself to accommodate you,” said Tinucci.
At the heart of this restoration is Park District of Highland Park’s conservation efforts.
“Lake Michigan was our greatest resource and it was being underutilized,” said Liza McElroy, executive director of PDHP. The beach was also experiencing erosion issues.
To that end, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spearheaded the shoreline and ecosystem restoration. It padded the shoreline with 60,000 cubic feet of sand, restored native plants, and constructed new breakwaters from 40,000 tons of stone brought in by barge. The Army Corps also opened the ravine stream that runs into Lake Michigan by removing a culvert to provide fish habitat and cleaner water, and created a permeable paved parking lot to reduce stormwater runoff.
The interpretive center, the site’s northernmost building, primarily serves to educate schoolchildren about the formation of the Great Lakes and their ecosystems. Equipped with computers and geothermal heating and cooling, the 1,000-square-foot facility doubles as shelter in inclement weather, as well as a yoga studio and private party room in the offseason. Operable glass doors, imprinted with a thin layer of textured lines to deter bird strikes, recede for unimpeded views of Lake Michigan. North and south glass walls allow full transparency. “It’s as light as humanly possible,” said McElroy. Fittingly, this pavilion opens to the educational beach cove.
Recreational opportunities abound at the other two coves: One serves up volleyball nets and a children’s play area while another is simply for swimming.
“The building structures are not the story,” said McElroy. “The beach, the bluff, and the water are the story. Buildings are elements to help you enjoy the nature that’s around you.”