Northerly Island

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing

Chicago, IL

Phase I completed 2015 / Under construction

City of Chicago


91 acres

Targeting LEED Gold


Northerly Island transforms a man-made peninsula on Chicago’s lakefront into a 91-acre living ecosystem, a public park only twenty-first century knowledge could build.

Studio Gang’s design embraces the island’s artificiality and uses the occasion to construct a topography and landscape that will encourage wildlife to occupy it—over time, creating an amplified, biodiverse ecology whose various habitats and architectural features offer people multiple ways to engage directly with nature without leaving the city.

Habitat restoration of the southernmost 40-acres began in the fall of 2012. The southern end of the island was opened to the public in September 2015. Photo: Nick Ulivieri.

The design was developed as part of a comprehensive framework plan in collaboration with the Chicago Park District and SmithGroup. In addition to the establishment of a biodiverse habitat, the framework plan envisions a series of environmental enhancements that ultimately result in the creation of a lagoon, formed by a constructed reef that serves as fish-spawning habitat and also works to calm wave activity. Various architectural features are also included in the plan, including an amphitheater integrated with the landscape.

The wetland and savanna on the southern end of the island will continue to mature and are already attracting birds and fish as well as other native species. Visitors can walk and bike along a looping path and enjoy activities in nature. Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing.

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing

The Northerly Island Framework Plan

Subsequent phases of the plan call for a new waterfront boardwalk and amenities with opportunities to kayak and scuba dive, among other activities.

At the north end of the island, near the city’s Museum Campus, the framework plan envisions an outdoor music amphitheater that is integrated with the landscape, potentially one of many new cultural offerings.

Video by Spirit of Space

Consultant Team

SmithGroup, landscape architect/coastal engineer

Applied Ecological Services, Inc., ecology consultant

Applied Real Estate Analysis, Inc., financial consultant

dbHMS, sustainability consultant

Fish Transportation Group, Inc., transportation consultant

Studio V Design, graphic design


Honor Award, Illinois Honor Awards, AIA Illinois, 2015

Great Places Award, The Environmental Design Research Association, 2013