Reimagining Navy Pier with JCFO


My name is Steven Haemmerle, I’m the executive vice president of Navy Pier in Chicago. Navy Pier was originally constructed in 1916 and throughout its 100-year history it has had a variety of uses. Navy Pier is incredibly important to Chicago because it is the one place in the city where both residents and visitors can come and experience what really makes Chicago such a spectacular place. The Centennial Vision is a framework plan for reimagining Navy Pier. We hosted an international design competition and we selected James Corner Field Operations. Their emphasis and focus on creating social spaces, to create a place where people interact with not only each other but with the city and the lake is really what we were looking for.

My name is Sarah Weidner Astheimer, I’m a landscape architect and a principal at Field Operations. There were many things that excited us about the Chicago Navy Pier competition: its size and its scale, its location between Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago, and its social vibrancy. Paving on this project was huge. It was an organizational device that helped inspire the design of other elements on the project. It was critical in achieving our sites’ goals and targets. And it was also this robust fabric that really supported the entire project as a whole. The Pier was very unique in its long length and large size and we wanted to respond to this with the paving scheme.

There were also a variety of applications for the pavers themselves. We had places where we wanted to use permeable pavers, where we had the heavy-duty vehicular traffic. There are millions of visitors on a daily basis. Just the sheer variety of applications was challenging. Finding the right manufacturer for us from early on was of critical importance. Identifying the range of possible sizes, identifying the range of possible finishes and materials for this project with all of its customization was really important.

We also wanted to find somebody that we knew would be able to work with us throughout the life of the project from early on and then deliver throughout the construction process. Our team at Unilock was fantastic; it was lead by Brad Swanson. He was really with us every step of the way, especially during the early stages of the selection and construction process. One of the technical challenges that we saw really as an opportunity was the fact that we wanted to achieve SITES certification for this project. And for us the story about sustainable material use began with the pavers, because pavers were such an important part of the project. We wanted to achieve a thirty percent recycled content for the pavers. We wanted the pavers to come from within the region, to be manufactured from within the region. We wanted the aggregates that were used in the pavers to be regionally extracted, and we wanted the pavers to have a high SRI value. A recycled copper slag was used for the first time ever in these pavers. That really helped us to achieve our SITES goals for recycled content, but also helped us achieve our aesthetic goals of a sort of salt-and-pepper effect, one that would lend a lot more texture to the paving surface, and also to help disguise and mask dirt and debris from on-site. We selected a herringbone paving pattern and an extra large paver size at 2 feet by 6 inches, as well as a second smaller size exactly a quarter of that for more intimate spaces and spaces that were subject to heavy duty vehicular traffic.

Unilock was really excellent, everything was delivered on time, it was well packaged. They created special moulds for the pavers, for our custom pavers. Provided suggestions for sustainable cleaning solutions and alternatives to salt for sustainable de-icing. For Unilock, one thing that we were just incredibly impressed with was their experience and broad range of capability to support us as designers with technical considerations, and being really responsive and tuned in to our aesthetic goals.

James Corner Field Operations has incredible focus on detail. One of the most important details of the design for the Pier scape is the paving. There’s nothing more gratifying to me than to walk around the Pier on a sunny afternoon seeing people from every neighbourhood of Chicago and neighbourhood of the world walking around, enjoying the Pier, enjoying the lake and enjoying the city. Now that the project is complete, we’re thrilled and the paving looks fantastic. We see the Pier animated in new ways, we see the Pier de-cluttered and refreshed and has brought amazing new life to this important Chicago landmark.

The reimagination of Navy Pier was a complex and detailed project that required the right paving partner early in the design process. Sarah Weidner Astheimer, principal at James Corner Field Operations, tells us about the details and considerations on the Navy Pier project.

Learn more about the Navy Pier project.

For more information about Unilock’s custom capabilities and requirements please contact your local representative.