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09-28-22 | Feature

Seneca Park Inspired by Chicago Firehouse

A quiet oasis and well-loved community
by site design group, ltd.

Seneca Park is located in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood, between the Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue) and the Lake Michigan lakefront. Designed by local landscape architecture firm site design group, ltd., the 18,400 square foot park provides a functional, flexible, and updated amenity for surrounding residents, patrons of the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art, and staff, patients, and visitors of the Lurie Children's Hospital and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
The City-inspired 5-12 year playspace features two main vertical tower features, modeled after the historic Chicago Water Tower (blue tower) and the adjacent firehouse, Chicago Fire Department Engine 98 (red tower). These towers have a fall height of 10 feet and were provided by Landscape Structures. The rubber surfacing pattern was inspired by the Chicago block grid system.
The City-inspired 5-12 year playspace features two main vertical tower features, modeled after the historic Chicago Water Tower (blue tower) and the adjacent firehouse, Chicago Fire Department Engine 98 (red tower). These towers have a fall height of 10 feet and were provided by Landscape Structures. The rubber surfacing pattern was inspired by the Chicago block grid system.
The design of this play tower was inspired by the Chicago firehouse found next to the park. To connect to the firehouse, the play structure was given a red coloration with specific play elements including alternating step staircases to get to upper levels of the firehouse, "sleeping nooks" for resting firemen, and a large opening that reflects an entrance for fire trucks.
The design of this play tower was inspired by the Chicago firehouse found next to the park. To connect to the firehouse, the play structure was given a red coloration with specific play elements including alternating step staircases to get to upper levels of the firehouse, "sleeping nooks" for resting firemen, and a large opening that reflects an entrance for fire trucks.
As a nod to the history of the site, the younger children playspace design focused on the experience of traversing or playing on dunes. The concept of the dune ecosystem was likely present on this site before the development of Downtown Chicago. The design creates a continuous experience that allows children to traverse the dunes in various ways, whether it be over them on bridges and fences, around them on pod steppers, down them on one of five types of slides, or through the dunes in the hollowed-out log tunnel.
As a nod to the history of the site, the younger children playspace design focused on the experience of traversing or playing on dunes. The concept of the dune ecosystem was likely present on this site before the development of Downtown Chicago. The design creates a continuous experience that allows children to traverse the dunes in various ways, whether it be over them on bridges and fences, around them on pod steppers, down them on one of five types of slides, or through the dunes in the hollowed-out log tunnel.
Next to the firehouse play structure is the blue tower. The blue structure has a tall triangular shape which is inspired by the historic 1869 Chicago Water Tower, located west of the park. The interior of the tower contains nets in a web formation, with an exterior staircase inspired by fire ladders that lead to a large and long spiral slide.
Next to the firehouse play structure is the blue tower. The blue structure has a tall triangular shape which is inspired by the historic 1869 Chicago Water Tower, located west of the park. The interior of the tower contains nets in a web formation, with an exterior staircase inspired by fire ladders that lead to a large and long spiral slide.
Drawing inspiration from real dunes, including driftwood play pieces and the bridges that were designed based on real bridges found on dune walks, the Landscape Architect's design incorporated play elements with graduated risk, so even the children who cannot climb the pods can enjoy it from grade level.
Drawing inspiration from real dunes, including driftwood play pieces and the bridges that were designed based on real bridges found on dune walks, the Landscape Architect's design incorporated play elements with graduated risk, so even the children who cannot climb the pods can enjoy it from grade level.

Seneca Park is a quiet oasis and well-loved community amenity that is immersed in Chicago history and sits at the crossroads of art, nature, culture, health, and community in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood. The design was developed through an in-depth community outreach process that started with the need for an update to this valued community space. The site previously contained outdated post and platform structures with mulch on the ground layer. The new design envisions a functional, flexible, and updated amenity for surrounding residents, patrons of the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art, and staff, patients, and visitors of the Lurie Children's Hospital and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

The landscape architecture firm on the project, site design group, ltd., led the design process for the entire one-acre park, which includes plans for a sensory garden that serves as a shady nook for rest and reflection, a sunny lawn that promotes gathering, an all?(C)e passageway that provides an important connection to the adjacent community, and additional space for gathering, events, and activities, as well as the custom playground which was the center of Phase 1 of the project.

Playground Design
The expansive playground, provided by Landscape Structures, accommodates children of all ages with two distinct play spaces separated by age group; 2 to 5 years and 5 to 12 years. The playground promotes creative, non-linear play and provides fully accessible play opportunities for children through completely custom-designed play equipment with two overarching themes: Dunes (ages 2 to 5) and the City (ages 5 to 12).

Young Children Playground

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The concept for the play space for kids ages 2 to 5 was inspired by the dune ecosystem that was likely present on this site before the development of Downtown Chicago. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, much of this site was presumably at the edge of Lake Michigan or underwater as it was filled with debris from the fire. As a nod to the history of the site, the design focused on the experience of traversing or playing on dunes. The design creates a continuous experience that allows children to navigate the dunes in various ways, whether it be over them on bridges and fences, around them on pod steppers, down them on one of five types of slides, or through the dunes in the hollowed-out log tunnel.

The play space is whimsical and colorful but drew inspiration from real dunes, including driftwood play pieces and the bridges that were designed based on real bridges found on dune walks. A designed hidden play feature is found on a track for toy cars embedded in the dune fence pieces. The ten bucket swings were requested by the community based on the large influx of children who visit the site from the adjacent hospital programs. The 2- to 5-year-old side of the playground is designed to have graduated risk, so even the children who cannot climb the pods can enjoy the playground from grade level. Meanwhile, the children have the ability to play games, such as 'hot lava,' through the entire 2- to 5-year-old playspace and never touch the ground from one side to the other.

Older Children Playground
The play space for 5- to 12-year-old kids reflects the surrounding city and draws inspiration from the adjacent fire station through two main vertical tower features. The taller blue tower is inspired by the triangular form of the historic 1869 Chicago Water Tower, located west of the project site across Michigan Avenue. The interior of the tower is comprised of a web of nets, with an exterior staircase inspired by a fireman's ladder that allows children to access the largest and longest spiral slide on the site.
The red tower is a shorter, stockier tower inspired by the adjacent firehouse, Chicago Fire Department Engine 98. The tower has countless details that are reminiscent of a firehouse, including the firehoses being dried and hung out after use, alternating step staircases to get to upper levels of the firehouses, sleeping nooks for resting firemen, and a large opening for fire trucks to enter. On the exterior, climbing elements and ladders allow children to get up and see into the adjacent firehouse, as the windows are set a few feet above grade. Despite the complex interior, the perforated panel exterior was designed to allow children and caregivers to see what is going on inside. The rubber surfacing pattern of the 5- to 12-year-old playspace was inspired by the Chicago block grid system.

Process and Budget
The Seneca Park redevelopment began in 2013, and eight years later in 2021, the first phase-the playground-opened. During that time, the Landscape Architect led nearly 30 stakeholder and community meetings to gain public insight and input on the park and playground. Over the course of the project, the budget evolved significantly. The budget for the whole park redevelopment started at $6M, and was then cut down to $4M, and subsequently $3M based on available funding. After the initial design was completed and the park went through a donor funding process, the final budget was established at $1.3M for the first phase, which included only the playground. The Landscape Architect was tasked with delivering the same look and feel as the original $4M budgeted design for the playground, at approximately one-third of the cost. The new playground creates an 800 percent increase in seating within the playground, 55 percent more plaza space, and a 13 percent overall larger footprint for play space.

Outcome
The design process also included an in-depth donor funding program, which was successful in obtaining funding for the construction of the playground. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, the playground was re-dedicated to honor Eli Schulman, a well-known restaurateur who promoted recreation for children throughout Chicago. This community-led vision for Seneca Park has transformed this community park into a modern, vibrant, multi-faceted space that promotes healthy lifestyles, creativity, and community building for generations to come.

Team List:
Owner: Chicago Park District
Landscape Architect: site design group, ltd.; Artemisia Landscape Architecture
Engineers: TERRA Engineering; Advance Consulting Group, International; Applied GeoScience
Contractors: Speeded Gonzalez Landscaping
Vendors: Landscape Structures Inc.; Berliner Seilfabrik Play Equipment Corporation

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