Navy Pier is Illinois’ most popular and distinctive attraction, drawing nearly 9 million visitors annually.  In celebration of the Navy Pier’s centennial year (2016), the city of Chicago embarked on a major redevelopment project to reinvent Navy Pier that included upgrades to outdoor public spaces, new water features, facade lighting for the landmarked Head House, and a new Ferris Wheel.

L’Observatoire International was commissioned by James Corner Field Operations to design a lighting system that supports all multi-purpose uses of the Navy Pier while complementing the architectural renovations. L’Observatoire’s scope included all site and landscape lighting for the project’s 6.25 acres of renovation, including South Dock (a 2,000 ft length pedestrian promenade)  Pier Park, Polk Brothers Park (formerly Gateway Park) and facade lighting of the landmarked Head House.

L’Observatoire proposed a dynamic and bright lighting concept to communicate excitement and fun while simultaneously controlling glare and undesirable spill light. The ultimate goal of the lighting is to deliver visual stimulation and visual comfort in parallel. The lighting also serves to suggest pathways that navigate through the space and encourage circulation and movement. A gentle wave of white, textured light illuminates the main pedestrian walkway between the two anchor buildings, while poles blanket this walkway in an even glow, eliminating any patches of darkness.  The final unifying gesture of the pier is the lighting of the substructure of the existing pier. Deep aqua colored lights attached to the underside of the pier project onto the water, creating a light cloud installation. As a result, the pier appears to float when viewed from the residential/office towers and observation deck’s downtown.

In alignment with the Pier’s focus on sustainability, all of the light sources are LED. This also allows the project to take advantage of the bulb’s small size, optical control, dimmability,  tolerance for cold weather and efficiency



Date Completed


Project Leader

Jason Neches


Natalia Priwin

Photo Credit

Sahar Coston-Hardy

Courtesy of Chicago Navy Pier