Terrain is a complex project that combines landscape architecture and site-specific sculpture to create a sequence of evocative spaces in the midst of a commercial development near O’Hare Airport, Chicago, IL. The composition includes a central plaza with two gardens on either side of it, one below grade and the other above. The dramatic and varied landscape is visible from the surrounding hotel and office tower complex and easily accessible.
The 22 boulders on the gridded plaza range in height from 2 to 9 feet and are a startling presence. They, as well as other forms in this metaphoric landscape, allude to the creation of the nearby Great Lakes 15,000 years ago during the last Ice Age. The stones are the “erratics,” boulders carried by glacial movement. They surround an irregularly shaped pool and a narrow, wavering “stream”, a cut in the pavement, flows west across the plaza and empties into a pond in the lower garden.
To a visitor descending into this intimate space, the waterfall creates a gentle sound. In contrast to the pale granite plaza above, the garden has a dark gravel floor. Plantings along the pool edge, daylilies, irises, and thyme, soften the site and introduce natural color. The western edge of this garden is bordered by an 8 foot high crescent-shape berm planted with native wildflowers. The tall berm blocks one’s view of the adjacent airport an forms an acoustic barrier. Informal groups of boulders provide seating.
At the eastern end of the central plaza a 4-foot rise across a protruding granite ledge leads to a very different environment: an undulating space of gentle mounds punctuated by two small pools and crossed by gravel paths. This large area is planted with multiple ground covers, medium-height perennials, and a large grove of silver maples. This lush and shaded garden creates the possibility for private experience.
Using her skills as well as her knowledge of geology and Japanese gardens, Zimmerman has created a site that suggests the history of geological creation amidst the realities of a contemporary locale.
O’Hare International Center, Chicago, IL
Granite boulders, pavers, and ledge; limestone, concrete, gravel, river stones, water, and plant materials
Hawthorn Realty Group & Melvin Simon & Associates
Architect: Holabird & Root;
Landscape architect: Freeman Hills & Associates
Stone supply & fabrication: Cold Spring Granite Company;
Site Contractors: Linari Construction; Hayden Landscape