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Chicago's Mary Bartelme Park

Landscape Architecture by site design group, ltd.





Mary Bartelme Park is a 2.3-acre urban green space that replaced an old infirmary in the West Loop of Chicago, Ill. Five skewed square stainless steel arches form an iconic gateway at the northwest corner of the former brownfield site, and two large lawn berms provide ample viewing space for community activities such as parades, recreation, and movies in the park on an inflatable screen (background, right).


Mary Bartelme Park in Chicago, Ill., is a 2.3-acre contemporary urban park that occupies the site of a former infirmary in the West Loop, one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the Windy City. As recently as the late 1980s, the West Loop was a dangerous and dilapidated industrial warehouse district; over the last two decades, however, it has been renewed by the addition of numerous upscale residences and some of the nation's most well-known and fashionable restaurants. The rapid residential growth exacerbated the lack of green space, and the community did not hesitate to voice their displeasure. Sited on a single city block and surrounded by rehabbed industrial buildings, Mary Bartelme Park was formed in response.

 




Water-activated photocatalytic pavers were installed below the steel arches to alleviate the urban heat island effect and reduce air pollution. On hot days, the arches produce a fine mist of vaporized water that immerses the area in a cloud. The water feature is designed to expend just 10 percent of the three gallons of water per minute that a typical Chicago spray feature uses. At night, built in LED lights illuminate the arches.



Design & Preparation
Mary Bartelme Park is located on a former industrial "brownfield" site, which required careful remediation and sensitivity to the threat of groundwater contamination. Working in collaboration with the Chicago Park District, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and the City of Chicago Department of Water Management, landscape architecture firm site design group, ltd., created a plan to store excavated earth beneath mounds and import clean soil to provide a buffer between the surface and rectified soils. Site design group used recognized environmental concerns, such as an existing underground storage tank, to inform the site's topography and minimize the amount of resources required while meeting regulations for treatment and remediation.

 




The primary paths on site are made of permeable pavers; runoff from across the site is directed into a leach field located under a central berm, where the stormwater is cleansed and infiltrated into the ground.



Extensive public input became the heart of the design process. Site design group helped to define the program and design concept through polls, discussions with city agencies and a highly invested community group. The design ultimately selected by the community and stakeholders consists of three intersecting paths that define the programmed areas as irregularly shaped zones with varying uses. The zones include a contemplative garden, open lawn, dog park, gateway fountain, viewing mound and sculpted playground.

 




Weathering steel railings and retaining walls that reflect the West Loop's industrial past contrast with brightly colored seasonal plantings and ornamental grasses.



Fountain
The fountain is located at the northwest corner of the park, the most highly trafficked corner of the site, and serves as an iconic gateway to the park for the community. Five skewed square stainless steel arches produce a fine mist of vaporized water that cools visitors and immerses the area in a cloud of mist. The arches were designed with water efficiency in mind, and use only 10 percent of the three gallons of water per minute a typical spray feature uses in the city of Chicago. At night, the gateways light up with internal LED lights that cast a unique pattern on the ground. A seven-foot high viewing mound along the northern extent of the park showcases a view of the rest of Mary Bartelme Park, with a backdrop of the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and the Chicago skyline. Just south of the viewing mound, a large mounded open lawn creates the central spine of the park. These two lawns provide ample space for community activities such as holiday parades, movies in the park and recreation.

 




Terracotta artifacts salvaged from the infirmary building are nestled in seat walls, planter beds, and within the mounds. The unique details and industrial references within Mary Bartelme Park have made it a popular location for wedding and engagement photos.



Sustainability & Hardscape
The dense urban area around the park made the sustainability of the design essential to the Chicago Park District and the design team, who set a goal of zero infrastructure for the treatment of stormwater runoff at the beginning of the project. The primary intersecting paths on site are made of permeable pavers, where all runoff from across the site is directed. Water infiltrates below the surface and into a leech field located under a central berm, where the water is cleansed and infiltrated into the ground.

Beneath the gateway fountain, photocatalytic smog-eating pavers alleviate the urban heat island effect and reduce air pollution. Sunrays activate the photocatalytic reaction within the white TX Active pavers (Unilock), which destroy organic and inorganic compounds before they have a chance to adhere to their surface. Organic pollutants decompose into oxygen, water and harmless salts.

While the photocatalytic properties of the pavers clean the air on a clear day, on a rainy day their permeable solution allows rainwater to flow through their surface rather than being discharged into local sewers. The innovative practices allowed Mary Bartelme Park to serve as a successful sustainable design pilot project for the Chicago Park District, which has gone on to implement permeable pavement and other sustainable solutions throughout many of its 580 parks.

 




The playground provides inventive, exploratory play experiences and physical challenges for ages 2 to 12, and accommodates a number of physical and cognitive disabilities.



Playground & Planters
For families with small children, the northeast corner of the park is a popular stop, with a fully accessible playground comprised of custom play structures and complex topography. Formed from recycled rubber surfacing, the mounds are connected with a series of custom-designed bridges, slides, stepping pods, and climbing structures that promote creative, non-linear play. Without strictly separating age groups, the playground provides inventive, exploratory play experiences and physical challenges for ages ranging from two to 12, while accommodating a number of physical and cognitive disabilities. An enclosed seating area flanking the southwest corner provides a calm and contemplative community garden that contains a number of hidden design features. Terracotta artifacts salvaged from the demolished infirmary building are nestled in seat walls, planter beds, and within the mound, which are covered by profusions of more than 24,000 periwinkle-blue flowering bulbs in the spring. Surrounding the garden are weathering steel retaining walls that will oxidize over time, paying homage to the previously industrial use of the site and neighborhood. As they oxidize, the walls will develop a rich patina, changing to a rusted orange hue. Rustling river birch trees create a calmer entrance to the southeast, near custom egg-shaped benches.

The West Loop neighborhood, previously underserved by green space and predominantly occupied by high-rise condominiums and loft spaces, now features a well-loved and well-used green space that doubles as an icon of the revitalized community. Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin lauded the park as part of a "new generation of geometrically-complex, engagingly interactive and highly-stylized urban parks that eschew the cliche of grass and a gazebo."

 




The fully accessible playground contains custom play structures (Berliner, Kompan, Landscape Structures) and complex topography that allows multiple age groups to play and be challenged together.



Materials & Vendors
Drainage/Erosion
Custom drainage system consisting of underdrain, permeable pavers, CA-7 and geotextile in leach field
Fences/Gates/Walls
Omega II
Furniture
Wausau Tile custom pre-cast
Hardscape
Unilock TX Active, Eco-Priora, Umbriano
Kafka Granite Midnight Blue stabilize
Lighting
Bega, traditional concrete base & Hadco luminaire
Parks/Recreation Equipment
Berliner, Kompan & Landscape Structures
Plants
Midwest Growers
Playground Surfacing/Turf
Forever Lawn K9 artificial turf, Select LX playground turf & Total Surfaces Rubber Surfacing
Water Management/Amenities
Most Dependable Fountains

 




Mounds formed from recycled rubber surfacing (Total Surfaces) are connected with a series of custom-designed bridges, slides, stepping pods, and climbing structures that promote creative, non-linear play.



Project Team
Architect of Record, Landscape Architecture
and Project Management
site design group, ltd.
Ernest C. Wong, Principal-in-Charge
Michelle M. Inouye, Lead Designer
Hana Ishikawa, Associate Project Manager and Designer
Brad McCauley, Project Manager
Civil Engineering
Terra Engineering, Ltd.
Electrical Engineering
Hinkle Engineering, Inc.
Environmental Engineering
GSG Consultants, Inc.
Fountain Design
Fountain Technologies, Ltd.
General Contractor
The Lombard Company
Structural Engineering
Gagarin Farruggia Gibisch Reis, Inc.

 




A sunken dog park includes an oversized, continuously filling water bowl. Anti-microbial and short-bladed artificial canine turf was installed for furry activities. Ramps, steps, and seat walls provide pet owners with places to rest and means for the dogs to exercise as well.

 




The design was developed through an extensive public process with public agencies, community members and stakeholders. Numerous public gatherings are held in the park each year, including an annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
Credit: Matthew Raney Photography, Inc.

 

 







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October 15, 2019, 10:35 pm PDT

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