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A Colossal Feat – Chicago’s Hotel on Water

A perfect fusing of proficiencies, the upcoming boutique hotel at Chicago’s Navy Pier is a deed, which has multiple contributors, ensuring the property stands proud and unique at the edge of the city

Opened in 1916 as a facility for freight and passenger docking, Municipal Pier in Chicago was soon riddled with soldiers, Red Cross and Home Defense units once United States entered World War I. Over the next century, however, ‘Municipal Pier’ transitioned to ‘Navy Pier’, as wars got over, armies moved out, and the Lake Michigan outpost saw a proliferation of restaurants, theatres, boat tour operators, museums and the very lovable Ferris wheel.

Navy Pier’s most recent renovation comes with its centennial celebration, which led the Pier into a futuristic era through broader walkways, glass dividers, children’s’ rides and activities, and an inner walkway luring with more accessible food options than the previous food court offered.

Not that it ever seemed that the Navy Pier was lacking anything, but installing a hotel here makes ample sense. And that’s a part of the Pier’s second phase of renovation.

Navy Pier Hotel Groundbreaking Ceremony

And so, we found ourselves gathered under the hot July sun, to witness the ground-breaking ceremony of this new hotel. With the joyous voices and screams of visitors and Chicagoans in the backdrop, the organisers and stakeholders presented their thoughts on this historic event.

The seven-story hotel, whose name is yet to be announced, will be operated by Curio Collection by Hilton. Deputy Mayor of Chicago, Robert Rivkin, hailed the project for being an economic boost to the city, considering that Navy Pier offers ground to 9 million visitors every year. “The hotel project is going to be instrumental in creating 600 construction jobs and 300 permanent positions,” he said.

Marilynn Gardner, President & CEO of Navy Pier sees the upcoming hotel as a way of connecting people to the Pier in a new way, while ushering the venue into an advanced position. Invested in by ACRON, the hotel will be managed and developed by Maverick Hotels & Restaurants.

Navy Pier Hotel View Rendering

In my opinion, however, we got the most insightful inputs from Jackie Koo of KOO LLC, a full-service architecture, interior design and planning firm, which is designing the project and building it from ground to top with James McHugh Construction Co. and Powers & Sons.

Her passion for the project could be clearly discerned as she talked about the upcoming hotel. “There are lots of hotels in the city, that are part of the urban environment and even one or two that have a view of Lake Michigan, but this is the only one that is ON the lake and on the Pier, looking at the skyline for which Chicago is famous,” says Ms Koo.

It is exactly these attributes which make it a tough project: being located on a 100 year old pier over a lake which is more like an ocean. Ms Koo concurs that the biggest challenge has been adding five stories of the hotel, and a year-round 30,000 sq ft rooftop restaurant and bar enclosure, while keeping the building structure as light as possible. “In order to accommodate the multiple grids of the old foundation below, panelized light gauge metal frame is used at the hotel, with micropile foundations due to their ability to be installed in small areas, and an air-filled ETFE roof as the enclosure of the rooftop venue,” Ms Koo informs us.

Navy Pier Hotel View Rendering

While the structural solutions are intriguing, I was equally interested about the interiors of the hotel. How do you make it more beautiful than the outside, expansive views of Lake Michigan? But my question was actually wrong. Instead of trying to make it more gorgeous than the external environment, KOO LLC will be integrating the outside and inside to provide a completely mesmerizing experience. “We felt that we needed to design something that was relaxed enough for the Pier, but still sophisticated and urban enough to reflect this unique location, which is on the edge of the water and city,” says Ms Koo.

Therefore, as a part of the interior design philosophy, the firm is designing custom casegoods – items of furniture built with interior compartments for storage such as chests, dressers and bookshelves – that have details that shipwrights (a carpenter skilled in ship construction and repair) might use. And in every room, there will be an upholstered window seat to enjoy the dazzling view.

I can only end the article by imagining a traveller settled into that window seat with a cup of coffee and a good book in hand, watching the sunrise, as the kids sleep soundly after last night’s adventure in the city. Incredible.