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Curbed Chicago: A new look for Chicago Children's Museum

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Chicago Children's Museum at Navy Pier

From Curbed Chicago: A new look for Navy Pier's Chicago Children's Museum
A first look at the destinations major makeover

Located at Navy Pier since 1995, the Chicago Children’s Museum is getting ready to cut the ribbon on a major overhaul designed by Krueck + Sexton Architects.

Though the Chicago-based firm never realized its original vision to move the museum to a controversial below-ground facility in Grant Park, K + S will instead work its magic on the cultural institution’s existing, and somewhat dated, Navy Pier location.

The plan calls for a number of improvements including a new less cluttered appearance, refreshed exhibit spaces, and—perhaps most importantly—a more streamlined visitor experience.

“Guest access used to be really confusing,” explained Tom Jacobs of Krueck + Sexton. “The main entrance was on the second floor so visitors had to go up escalators away from the museum and then make a 180-degree turn to get in. For guests who couldn’t use the escalators or families with strollers, the museum’s only elevator was located behind the gift shop—which was essentially the exit. It was very counterintuitive.”

The solution relocates all access to the main floor of Navy Pier. The reimagined entranceway will be far more visible and consolidates guest ticketing with a new elevator and redesigned gift shop. The museum will also add a new pedestrian connection to Navy Pier’s highly-trafficked outdoor promenade.

While improving access and circulation is a key priority, the Krueck + Sexton redesign also reflects Navy Pier’s latest aesthetic changes. Gone is the overly busy, 1990s carnival decor. It is replaced by the calmer, cleaner look seen in recent project’s such as the extensive redesign of the Pier’s landscaping.

“Before, [the exterior design] had so much happening,” added Jacobs. “Working with the Pier’s planners, we were able come up with something that is open and transparent and really fits in with the other improvements. The focus then becomes what’s inside the space.”

According to the current plan, roughly half of the exhibits will be overhauled. The museum’s replica dinosaur skeleton will be moved to a more visible location while a new and expanded 2,000-square-foot interactive art experience will provide more opportunities for hands-on activities.

Under construction since last fall, the Chicago Children’s Museum revamp is looking forward to a June opening date. There are also plans to add a new 35-foot climbing structure created by Phoenix-based Ganymede Design Group. Titled, “Cloud Buster” the interactive sculpture will welcome its first climbers by the end of 2018.