John Hancock Building Plaza

North Michigan Avenue and Chestnut or Delaware
Chicago, IL

Submitted by: Terry Ryan

This is an extremely popular urban plaza.

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Why It Works

This is urban design at its best. The John Hancock Building Plaza is "the place to go" when shopping on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It was recently renovated to include an upper plaza with trees and planter seating, and a lower level plaza with a touchable water wall, a grand staircase which provides ample seating, cafe tables with movable chairs, restaurant service and a continuously changing garden display. The lower level plaza is especially popular and frequently packed with people.

What Makes John Hancock Building Plaza a Great Place?

The plaza is located on a busy boulevard that has huge pedestrian flows. The upper plaza is at grade and it interacts with the bustle of Michigan Avenue, while at the bottom of a grand staircase a lower level plaza shelters users, but can be accessed visually from overlooks above. The materials are elegant -- granite paving, chrome and glass -- but the atmosphere is warm and festive, in part due to the changing annual flowers and the multitude of people who animate the space. Handicap access is provided from the building.

The plaza makes a great first impression at the street level with large trees and colorful plantings. Conveniently located in the heart of Michigan Avenue's shopping district, it is dominated but not exclusively used by women. The traffic of Michigan Avenue is not apparent from the lower level, where the traffic noise is muffled by the sound of water. The plaza is filled with shoppers and people waiting for restaurant tables on all days and evenings of nice weather. There is some outdoor food service, but there is also space available for people who are just sitting or waiting. The site is highly observable and well lit at all times. Children and grandparents both are comfortable.

People make this space come alive. It is frequently packed with all kinds of people, including all ages, genders, students, shoppers and tourists. There are a variety of seating choices. The lower level plaza is most popular, but the upper level also hosts people on built in planter seats, those waiting for buses or to be picked up, and those who want to watch what is happening at the lower level. If Chicago's climate were more hospitable, it would be as filled in the winter as in the summer, but even sunny days in the cold winter bring people out into the sheltered lower level.

The upper level is more like the business end of the space, where people are in transition. It is the lower level plaza that is very sociable -- for meeting, for waiting, showing off to tourists and for sitting in the sun by the water wall. There is shade at the upper level under large trees, and at umbrella tables in the lower level. On quiet warm mornings, single individuals may be observed reading a book, but later in the day, the lower level space is too popular for exclusive quiet use. Tourists and those shoppers from the suburbs frequently dine in plaza or the restaurant adjacent to the plaza. It is a popular spot for snapping pictures of your Chicago friends and family.

History & Background

The project has won a 2003 award from the Illinois Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Contact Info:

Bernard Jacobs, Jacobs/Ryan Associates, Landscape Architects, Chicago, IL: (312) 664-3217

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