Streeterville park offers green oasis due, in part, to innovative deception

(Published July 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

As residents move into the newly-opened One Bennett Park luxury skyscraper, the building’s flagship amenity—the two-acre Bennett Park—prepares to open Aug. 6.

By all expectations, the park is shaping up to be equal in its design and ambition as the skyscraper next door. The park, designed by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the firm behind Maggie Daley Park in New Eastside, seems to offer something for everyone.

“Bennett Park includes an inspired children’s play bowl with innovative playground equipment, two dog runs, a lawn bowl for gathering and a shady grove and meandering pathways with native plantings, flowering trees and design elements such as stone formations,” said Annie McDonell, the director of marketing for project developer Related Midwest. 

“[The park is] open space that serves as a respite within the city for all generations,” McDonell said. She added that the park, “enriches the neighborhood, builds community, and enhances the health and wellness of those living at One Bennett Park.”

But the beauty belies the brains behind the project because the park is as every bit as modern as its namesake luxury skyscraper and this oasis owes more to engineering than mother nature. 

Constrained on one side by Illinois Street and on all other sides by a high rise, the landscape architects relied on design to turn the rectangular plot into a park.

“The undulating topography and earthen mounds not only serve as a strong contrast to the flatness of the public streets and sidewalks, they add dimension to the space,” explained McDonnell. “This dimensional element of the design incorporates abundant plantings and rolling topography along the edges of every pathway and around the central lawn bowl, giving the park a lush and spacious feel.”

The rolling landscape covered by prairie grasses and bushes are also something of a design trick. Dig down deep enough and there’s a parking garage. What appears at first as green prairie is actually a garage roof, meaning developers had to create a lightweight prairie facsimile. The small, rolling hills? They’re fake. 

“To make the undulating topography that gives the park its character, horticultural soil was piled atop lightweight styrofoam structures, which are eco-friendly and very durable,” McDonell said. “By using lightweight foam as the underlying structure to create rolling topography, we kept the soil limits low, allowing more bandwidth to add plantings and trees and still stay under the weight limits of what the garage structure can support.”

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