Situated along Chicago’s 14-mile lakeshore are the city’s 10 municipal harbors—each with their own specific neighborhood look and, which together, constitutes the nation’s largest municipal harbor system. The harbors proudly represent the connection between Lake Michigan and the City of Chicago, and have long been touted as the city’s “best kept secret.”

Just south of McCormick Place within Burnham Park is the nation’s newest and greenest harbor—the 31st Street Harbor—which transformed an underused portion of Lake Michigan lakeshore into a new public amenity. AECOM provided project management, landscape architecture, coastal engineering, civil engineering, structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, underpass architecture and LEED consulting services for the harbor, one of the largest built in Chicago in the last 50 years.

Unlike traditional harbors that are typically commercial ventures, the project took the approach of integrating the 1000-slip marina with a park, melding high-tech engineering with thoughtful place-making. The design concept was inspired by the historical, cultural and environmental conditions along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Built partially on grade and partly as a green roof over a harbor services building, the new park-and-play space design provides for a variety of spatial experiences for users, including:

  • A 63,300-square-foot accessible green roof; a
  • Great lawn that provides spectacular views of the city, harbor, and lake;
  • Naturalized garden edges and low-water shoreline plantings; and
  • Enhanced waterfront promenade.

With its focus on public-realm design, the development of the 31st Street Harbor serves as a landmark for those on water and on land as it combines natural aesthetic treatments with engineered function and efficiency.