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233 North Michigan Avenue Plaza

Chicago, Illinois

Situated​ at the corner of Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue in the heart of Chicago's downtown, this raised plaza was a windswept expanse of stone and concrete where few pedestrians stopped to linger. 


The plaza was originally built with the Illinois Center in the 1970s, one of the last projects to come out of the office of Mies van der Rohe, but its stark expanse never suited the site or the needs of its users the way many of his great plazas did. We had the opportunity to completely reimagine the space when it came time to replace the waterproofing below (it is built atop a subterranean food court).

The client saw the opportunity to use the space for lunchtime crowds and dining for the many nearby workers. We proposed a collection of amoebic planting beds that would pour through the space, mounds growing and shrinking continuously in height and width, spilling around the columns of the buildings.  Plantings swell and recede to provide a variety of spaces, from small private discussions to large civic gatherings.

Built-in benches rise from the planter curbs while movable furniture of many kinds provides flexible seating throughout.  The plaza has filled with life and become a popular lunch spot. Recently, the Chicago Architecture Center opened its new public visitor center in one of the buildings abutting the plaza, bringing even more activity and attention to the space.  Further architectural modifications to the buildings have since embraced the new plaza as well, with a glass-enclosed walkway running parallel to a long planting bed.

Paul performed this work while at Wolff Landscape Architecture (now Confluence Inc.)

This project won a Merit Award in 2014 from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

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