Chicago’s Union Station will get indoor park and giant blob

August 15, 2013

Alan Yu

Photo courtesy of Latent Design and the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative
A giant blob will arrive at Union Station soon. The blob, along with an indoor park, were the winning designs in a contest to try and bring more people to the station.

Commuters going to Chicago’s Union Station on August 24 will be greeted by an indoor park and a giant blob.

The Great Hall will hold an indoor park with an artificial lawn. It will have seats made from recycled newspapers, picnic tables and tetherball. Graham Grilli, an architect at SPACE architects and planners, the team behind the park, says city commuters travel to the suburbs to enjoy outdoor space and he wanted this park to bring the outdoors to them.

“Union Station is one of those in-between places where you’re in a rush the whole day, and you end up in Union Station with nothing to do for a few minutes,” Grilli said. “People are often using Union Station to go out to the suburbs, where there’s a lot more open space, but the reality is they spend almost all their time commuting in a train or working in an office and they almost never get to enjoy it.”

Outside Union Station, the plaza will have something that looks like a giant bouncy castle. Architect Katherine Darnstadt worked on the team behind the Blah Blah Blob!, a creation of Latent Design and the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative.

“Lots of things will be happening inside the blob," Darnstadt said. "The blob will be surrounding tables and chairs that are on the plaza so people could walk inside, have a cup of coffee, eat their lunch inside of it.”

The blob will be lined with artificial grass and will house fitness classes. Darnstadt says several organizations in Chicago have contacted her about wanting to host the blob at future events, so residents may still see the blob around the city after it leaves Union Station.The Metropolitan Planning Council, a local nonprofit development group, organized Active Union Station, a competition for designs that would help make it a gathering place instead of just a train station. The council picked these two designs as the winners, and each team will receive $5,000.

The organizers were inspired by the Union Station in Washington, DC, which is a tourist destination in itself; and 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, which has an urban space called the Porch for art, group exercise and food trucks, says Marisa Novara, a program director at the Metropolitan Planning Council.“There are a lot of people passing through, what we’d like to do is give them more of a reason to stay,” Novara said.

Novara also points out the contest  to expand Union Station started from an ongoing collaboration between the Metropolitan Planning Council, Amtrak, Metra, the Chicago Department of Transportation and other groups.Both installations will arrive next Saturday and stay till September 2.

Alan Yu is a WBEZ metro desk intern. Follow him @Alan_Yu039.