Maggie Daley Ice Ribbon

As if Millennium Park weren't enough of an attraction, now Chicago is very much excited for the new Maggie Daley Park. While we may think of parks as places of nature, they involve an incredible amount of design of architecture. Landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh has envisioned this new park, and here is an overview of its history and its visually enticing and interactive features. 

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Maggie Daley Park is on the north end of Grant Park, just east of Columbus Drive and Millennium Park and backing up to Lakeshore Drive. This was just lake water here back in 1836 when the first decision was made to keep the lakeshore "forever open, clear, and free" of buildings and businesses. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, debris was made into landfill at the shoreline, extending the park to the east. In the late 1880s, Aaron Montgomery Ward began his campaign to save the lakefront. Ward sued the city twice to keep buildings off park grounds. Ward succeeded in forcing The Field Museum (so-called for its chief donor, Marshall Fields) to relocate south of the park. Then in the early 1900s, addition of more landfill grew the park further.

In 1976 a parking lot on the current site of Maggie Daley Park was torn apart and rebuilt underground. They also added a Field House, still there, and renamed it Daley Bicentennial Plaza. Now it dons the name of the wife of Mayor Richard M. Daley, known for her charity work. After a 9-year-battle with cancer, she passed away in 2011.

Maggie Daley Park rendering

So what is going on at this new park? It's more of a center of active recreation than the entertainment focus of Millennium Park. And it will be one cohesive, united design, versus the three distinct areas that previously existed. Instead of the rigid design of more historic parks, like Grant Park, this design is "curvilinear, curvilinear, topographically dramatic, and relentlessly heterogeneous," according to Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.

Currently open is the skating ribbon weaves around evergreen trees and buildings. It has awesome views of the Chicago skyline. In the summer it becomes a paved path with access to the rock climbing walls (below). The Richard J. Daley Bicentennial Plaza Field House on the site is being renovated with a giant glass facade. The Field House is used for a variety of park activities and sports.

Maggie Daley Park rendering

This play haven of the new Maggie Daley Park will include tennis courts, chess and checker tables, a miniature golf course, a play garden, a café, and a rock-climbing wall. Other areas will welcome more passive recreation with intimately designed picnic groves, the Cancer Survivors Garden, and wide green space that opens up to grand views of the skyline as well as Lake Michigan. 

The cherry on top of this park design is the lighting. Lights meant to replicate moonlight surround Maggie Daley Park. Once the landscaping has matured around the lights, plants and branches will hide their white poles so that they appear as floating orbs.

Photo at top by Adam Alexander; renderings courtesy of Chicago Parks District