April 21, 2021
In my nearly 24 years with Epstein, I’ve had the unique pleasure to meet and work with some of the world’s leading architects and architectural firms, including Helmut Jahn, Richard Rogers, Foster + Partners as well as the individual who painted the watercolors you see here, Santiago Calatrava. This is a drawing that is part of a series of paintings Calatrava created for a project, Queen’s Landing, a pedestrian bridge that was to cross Lake Shore Drive at Buckingham Fountain. Alas, a project that, due to a combination of bad luck, never came to fruition.
Sometimes, it's not meant to be...
Architectural and engineering firms are sadly accustomed to pouring their hearts and souls into projects that never advance beyond the drawing stage. Today’s “Playing in the Archives” spotlight, which honors our impending 100th Anniversary, covers one such project – Chicago’s Queen’s Landing, a bridge that was to allow pedestrians to cross Lake Shore Drive at Buckingham Fountain in order to safely reach the lakefront. (Side note: for Chicagoans who have ever traversed Lake Shore Drive at this location, you know what a challenging endeavor that can be).
For Queen’s Landing, we had the very unique experience to work with Santiago Calatrava in 2000-2001 on the development of the concept and schematic design drawings for this bridge, which would feature a twin pedestrian overpass design. As viewed from the Lakefront, the entire composition of the Queen’s Landing concept would frame the Fountain and preserve the open character of the Burnham Plan axis. In addition to reinforcing the classical symmetry of the Burnham Plan, the Twin Bridge scheme preserved the historic stairs and left the historic template untouched.
Calatrava also proposed an off-center placement of the Bridge mast and cables to provide a "marker" of the Burnham axis that could be seen from Navy Pier as well as the Museum Campus. The classical composition would be completed by the placement of the bridges, which were to align perfectly, with the edges of the water street in Burnham Harbor and the breakwater opening in Lake Michigan. The twin bridge overpass would fulfill a functional need while at the same time providing a classically-symmetrical solution, complementing the intention of the 1909 Burnham Plaza.
Alas, this incredible concept, and one that would have been a signature piece of urban infrastructure in Chicago, fell victim to a combination of issues both local (lack of funds) and national (9/11) in scale, which mothballed the design and relegated it to the “what could have been” dustbin of architectural grand plans for Chicago.