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American Society of Landscape Architects


December 2004 Issue

Possible Dreams
Lakefront competition charts new territory. But are any of the ideas feasible in real-world Chicago?

Possible Dreams Catherine Seavitt Studio

The schemes you see here, for a specific stretch of Chicago's lakefront, are not entirely pie-in-the-sky proposals, nor are they grounded in programs, research data, client preferences, or budgets. They are the six winning concepts in a competition of ideas founded on the notion that designers of plazas and parks today draw heavily on ideas that congealed in the nineteenth century.

What might constitute a park for the twenty-first century? To answer that question and to generate bright ideas for developing Chicago's northernmost two-and-a-half miles of lakefront—from the tip of Lincoln Park up to the city limits at the suburb of Evanston—the Chicago-based Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts held a competition, open to everyone, late last year. The target site is as complex as it is expansive, and so it raises fundamental environmental and political questions. But rather than solutions, entrants were asked to propose visions—innovative planning approaches rather than answers to planning problems. "We encourage competitors to...deliver to the city of Chicago a lexicon of possibility," said the competition brief.

The organizers encouraged submissions from students and young professionals working in teams that represent more than one discipline or interest, such as marine ecology, energy conservation, or urban design. They received 104 submissions from across the country. The winners are the most innovative in the sense that they reach outside of preexisting paradigms, says Graham Foundation Director Richard Solomon, chair of the six-person jury.

Eliminated from consideration were schemes judged conventional for drawing upon the nineteenth-century notion of a green necklace strung with such jewels as ponds, playing fields, and field houses or for mainly reflecting pastoral feelings or New Urbanist concepts. "We wanted new ideas," Solomon emphasizes.

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