Nature’s Song - An Interactive Outdoor Music and Sound Museum

Award of Excellence

General Design

Chicago, Illinois, United States
Travis Johnson;
Faculty Advisors: Christopher Marlow, ASLA; Craig Farnsworth, ASLA;
Ball State University

Love the juxtaposition of music, landscape, and water! The design is so complete, thoughtful, and creative that it could have been done by a professional firm.

- 2022 Awards Jury

Project Statement

Nature's Song is the proposal of an outdoor music and sound museum at Northerly Island Park in Chicago, Illinois.  Utilizing three pillars for exemplar exhibit design, tactile, visual, and entertainment, each of the interactive and immersive exhibits is designed to highlight music, sound, and the vibrations they make.  The museum is divided into three overarching exhibit themes, each spotlighting one of the soundscape typologies. The first exhibit is Chicago Style – a discovery of the anthrophonic and cultural music phenomena of the early 20th century, Chicago style jazz.  The second is The Natural Symphony, a showcase of the music our Earth provides us daily, as well as how the natural processes of the Earth can be harnessed into more traditional music using sound sculptures.  Lastly is the largest exhibit, The Soundscape, a collection of four microhabitat environments each highlighting an Illinois native species and the unique tonal composition of their environments. 

Gain a new appreciation for the world we live in by discovering the confluence of environment and culture: Nature and Song.  

Project Narrative

“First in importance is the shore of Lake Michigan. It should be treated as park space to the greatest possible extent. The lakefront by right belongs to the people… not a foot of its shores should be appropriated to the exclusion of the people.”

– Daniel Burnham, 1909

Chicago, Illinois lacked an educational and entertaining outdoor destination, one that could be utilized and capitalized upon by visitors as well as its residents.  One that would provide a unique greenspace amenity to the city and surrounding community.  By transforming Northerly Island Park into an Interactive Outdoor Music and Sound Museum, it solves the aforementioned problems while simultaneously highlighting how our planet is a musical force.  The Earth has always been an inspiration for the arts, especially pertaining to music.  Over the past few centuries many symphonies and musical pieces have been directly inspired by nature, such as the “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nikolai Rimsky-Kirsakov, Ludiwg van Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony,” and many others.  Nature inspires music, simply because nature is a musical force.  This proposal demonstrates the connection nature has to music, using soundscapes, sound sculptures, and interactive exhibits, that highlight the importance of maintaining and appreciating our planet in the process. 

In addition to nature as music, the Museum of Music and Sound also spotlights the deep history Chicago has with jazz music, as well as the stories of it’s artists, their struggles, and the journey of the style itself.  This component uses the cultural connection of Chicago-style jazz music to highlight underrepresented stories while providing them the space to shine and be expressed to new generations.  

As landscape architects we must continue to push for new and unique design opportunities.  While as a profession we have learned how to mask noise and utilize more basic level elements of sound, such as white noise, we have not explored sound and music’s relationship to nature, nor have we created an interactive and educational landscape specifically centered around a topic.  Additionally, this project contributes a unique way to present educational opportunities to the public by bringing an indoor program to the outdoors.  Through this, landscape architects can provide new educational experiences to people in ways that can go past the basics of nature, and it will help push the discipline further, expanding our reach to new audiences.  

The symphony is unfolding at Northerly Island Park, and it provides everyone with a chance for a solo performance or the option to sit back and enjoy the show.  Nature’s Song is a new way to look at landscape architecture.  Landscapes as fully educational and immersive opportunities that highlight everyday elements of our world in unique ways.  Landscapes as spaces for everyone.  A stage on which everyone, including the Earth, can share the spotlight.