Central Park Bluff Stairs


2015 Merit Award


Highland Park, IL


Park District of Highland Park



Landscape Architects

Project Details

The City of Highland Park’s Central Park had been the site of a bluff staircase since the early 1980s, providing pedestrian access to the lakefront. Over time the bluff has shifted repeatedly, as unstable and highly saturated soils caused by glacial deposits eroded. This was further aggravated by the replacement, decades ago, of the City’s water supply which makes its way up the bluff from the water plant. In response, the City had been continually faced with costly repair and improvement efforts to maintain a useable staircase. In 2009, the staircase was condemned after structural problems caused by erosion displaced the first few flights of the stairs. It was demolished soon after.

In this project, a new multi-use stairway was designed to reestablish a direct pedestrian connection between the City and its public lakefront and beach. Early on in the design process, the opportunity was recognized not just for a connection, but for a multi-level civic space, wherein users can determine their own level of engagement and find memorable topographic experiences no matter how far they choose to travel vertically along the stairs. The structure consists of seven flights of stairs and four landing areas; two minor and two major. The two major landings act as platforms for gathering, resting, and observation of the unique bluff environment. Seating areas are incorporated into these platforms to accommodate those who wish to rest and enjoy the quiet surroundings and magnificent views.

Although unbuilt, this project serves as an example of an innovative and resilient structural solution for a delicate environment, designed and engineered for constructability and ease of long-term maintenance.

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