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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

January 2004 Issue

Balancing Acts
What happens when a Prairie Style landscape is reshaped as a contemporary suburb?
By Mary Kay Wilcox, ASLA


Photo by Mary Wilcox

The town of Fort Sheridan, an upscale community high on a bluff over Lake Michigan north of Chicago, is a transformed landscape. Until recently it was simply Fort Sheridan-a 700—acre army post that operated for over 100 years. Historians consider the decommissioned fort an architectural masterpiece. Holabird and Roche, the legendary Chicago architecture firm, designed most of the fort's 91 original buildings. The cream-colored masonry structures, mainly Richardsonian Romanesque in style, are clad in heavy arches and substantial columns that give the fort an air of grace and permanence. The fort's landscape design by Ossian C. Simonds is considered one of the finest examples of the Prairie Style's naturalistic approach. In 1984, the National Park Service upgraded Fort Sheridan's listing on the National Register of Historic Places by designating 230 acres as a National Historic Landmark District.

Today, children ride their bicycles through the water tower's sally port, originally designed to accommodate a platoon of men marching to the parade ground. Town residents live in converted horse stables, soldier's barracks, and even a former cannon storage building. Others live in new single-family houses along residential streets and in two mid-rise condominiums that afford spectacular views of Lake Michigan.

Upon entering the town of Fort Sheridan, one leaves behind the North Shore's high-speed arterials and enters an enclave of mature trees and green open space. The community has the atmosphere of a resort: Golfers stroll the former parade ground, now a six-hole course, while resident tennis players enjoy their games on the courts just across from a neighborhood of airy, handsome estate homes. The community's landscape infrastructure, from its substantial entrance pillars to its new bridges and tower plaza, echoes the feel of other North Shore neighborhoods.

But how readily does a historic military base lend itself to a contemporary, livable residential community? The army's closing agreement in transferring the fort identified a host of government entities to oversee its redevelopment—entities with sometimes conflicting concerns, such as restoring the natural environment and preserving the historic buildings. Moreover, the three exclusive neighboring communities of Highwood, Lake Forest, and Highland Park—which had their unique concerns, such as preventing competition to their own new-home sales—established a Joint Planning Commission responsible for approving a final master plan.

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