Museum Campus Vision

Museum Campus
  • Client City of Chicago - Office of the Mayor
  • Expertise Urban Design + Planning
  • Region North America
  • Location Chicago, Illinois, United States

A new vision for Chicago’s historic Museum Campus synthesizes stakeholder recommendations to center an equitable, accessible and sustainable lakefront campus.

Project Facts
  • Status Design Complete
  • Design Finish Year 2022
  • Size Site Area: 290 acres
Project Facts
  • Status Design Complete
  • Design Finish Year 2022
  • Size Site Area: 290 acres

Where worlds connect

The 57-acre Museum Campus that spans from Lake Michigan to the Loop is home to some of Chicago’s world-class institutions—including the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, Soldier Field, and Northerly Islandbut lacks a coherent urban vision, accessible green spaces, and equitable connections to the neighborhoods it borders.

Working pro bono alongside the Museum Campus Working Group, SOM has designed a vision to enable the City of Chicago to develop plans and investments that will collectively rewild the landscape to restore native ecosystems, adaptively reuse existing structures for year-round programming, create new pedestrian and bike routes, and improve connectivity to the South and West Sides.

© SOM

A place for everyone

The proposal includes reconfiguring under-utilized lawns and parking lots into vibrant landscapes and flexible community event spaces to enable a variety of programs and experiences that will activate the campus year-round, and provide accessible amenities to all the surrounding neighborhoods. A renewed Soldier Field proposes new activations and programming in the off-season, which, along with the Lakeside Center at McCormick Place, bookends a lively, new corridor for entertainment and gathering throughout the day and into the evening.

© SOM

Enhancing Solidarity Drive with pedestrian and bike trails as well as Metra connections will connect the three museums in a new spine of activity with spectacular views of the Chicago skyline and better access to Burnham Harbor, allowing Northerly Island and 12th Street Beach to be preserved as a natural oasis.

Solidarity Drive. © SOM

Rewilding the lakefront

Paired with innovative approaches to environmental preservation, the Museum Campus has the potential to position Chicago as a leader in urban climate resilience. Strategies for rewilding the site include converting parking lots into green, permeable surfaces; diversifying landscaping of static lawns to add shade, biodiversity, and topography; reusing the historic Meigs Field Terminal building as a new Climate Lab for the Great Lakes; and completing unrealized plans to develop Northerly Island into an accessible nature sanctuary with reef barriers to protect from erosion.


A better connected city

World-class infrastructure will create new connections from the campus to neighborhoods on the South and West Side, making it a more accessible destination for Chicagoland and the region. Pedestrian access over the railroad tracks and through McCormick Center increase connectivity to the west. Expanded use of the McCormick Place Busway, water taxis, and Metra increase access to the north and south. New pedestrian bridges make Northerly Island more accessible from the west.

Learn more and view the full report from the Museum Campus Working Group here.

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