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The Lurie Garden at Millennium Park

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Reduced stormwater runoff by 60%, or nearly 100,000 gallons annually, by converting the old surface parking lot into a garden that is 66% pervious. This eliminated the need for an onsite stormwater detention facility, saving an estimated $159,000.
  • Saves $17,800 in annual irrigation costs (890,000 gallons of water) by using native and adaptive plants instead of the turf and concrete path design outlined in the site’s original master plan.
  • Attracts more than 27 species of birds, according to counts by garden staff, along with butterflies and bees in the 2 acres of habitat with over 60% native Midwestern plant species.
  • Sequesters over 55 tons of carbon annually in 46 new shade trees and the more than 1,600 trees that comprise the large shoulder hedge.


  • Is a significant tourist destination within Millennium Park, which was visited by 4 million people from 21 countries in 2009.
  • Provides workshops for adults and families, guided walks, and other educational opportunities to nearly 10,000 visitors annually.


  • Contributes to Millennium Park’s $2.6 billion in projected visitor spending and $1.4 billion in projected residential development between 2005 and 2015.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Gustafson Guthrie Nichol; Terry Guen Design Associates

  • Project Type

    Park/Open space

  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    S Columbus Dr & E Monroe Street
    Chicago, Illinois 60601
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  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    3 acres

  • Budget


  • Completion Date


Built over the lid of an underground parking garage, the Lurie Garden reclaims 3 acres of land in downtown Chicago to offer quiet respite for people and urban wildlife. The design inspiration is Chicago’s history; articulated through the primary use of locally-grown native plants and local stones. The use of regional materials is a constant reference to Chicago’s place within the Midwestern prairie. Additionally, plant selection and placement serves as an important resource (shelter and food) for birds and other local wildlife.


The designers were tasked with creating a botanical garden representative of Chicago’s history and its people. A major challenge was how to build a viable botanical garden on top of an underground parking garage in downtown Chicago – creating a natural environment from a inherently man-made condition. The garden’s design also had to accommodate heavy pedestrian traffic – crowds of up to 10,000 people that exit through the Lurie Garden from the Pritzker Pavillion to the north.


Gustafson Guthrie Nichol’s design for the Lurie Garden incorporates regional, hardy materials (soil, plants, limestone, steel, etc) designed and engineered to succeed in a truly man-made environment. The design concept also responds to the rich history of the site and the city by conceptualizing and expressing the present and future of Chicago. The contrasting eras of Chicago’s landscape are made evident in sculpted landform and regional plant selection. A giant, muscular hedge encloses the interior garden from the north and west protecting the heart of the garden from large crowds.

  • The project increased public open space in downtown Chicago by 3 acres, by covering existing railroad tracks, service facilities, public transportation, and a new parking garage.
  • Total garden plantings include 35,000 perennials in 240 varieties and 5,800 woody plants in 14 varieties, more than 60% of which are Midwestern natives.
  • Use of native and adapted plants reduces necessary irrigation. The perennial beds were only irrigated 12 times during the Summer of 2010, and specific plants were hand watered as needed.
  • No insecticides, fungidices, or herbicides are needed to maintain the garden due to plant selection.
  • FSC-certified hardwood was used for walking surfaces and seating.
  • The limestone, soil, and plants were regionally sourced.
  • Mass perennial plantings provide enough pollen and nectar for bees; in Spring 2011, the Lurie Garden will have its own bee hives to collect Lurie Garden honey.
  • The maintenance endowment of $10 million donated by Chicago philanthropist Ann Lurie provides a buffer against constantly changing municipal park maintenance budgets, allowing the Lurie Garden to continue sustainable practices and programming every year.
  • The Lurie Garden has sparked a renewed interest in residential native plantings through the extensive educational and volunteer programs. On certain days, up to two staff members and four volunteers are on hand in the garden to answer questions.

The site’s master plan originally called for turf and concrete paths. The use of native and adapted plant materials saves an anticipated 888,543 gallons of water annually for irrigation or $17,770 in annual irrigation water costs.  Over a ten year period, this results in a net water volume savings of 8,885,430 gallons and a cost savings of $177,700.

The planted areas of the garden provide a valuable function for stormwater detention. Based on historic weather data, an average of 22,000 cubic feet (164,560 gallons) of rainwater falls on the site each year. Compared to a fully impervious site, the garden’s planted areas reduce stormwater runoff by 60%. This 13,222 cubic foot (98,907 gallon) annual reduction translated into the elimination of an onsite stormwater detention facility, saving the project an estimated $159,000.

  • It is important to provide resources for building engineering, in addition to landscape maintenance, as part of the annual operations and maintenance budget. The Lurie Garden is a botanical garden that includes exterior lighting, site furniture, a water feature, and paved surfaces accessible by pedestrians, maintenance vehicles, and emergency vehicles. All of these things occur over building structure in a high pedestrian-traffic area. As such, it is as much “building” as it is “landscape.”
  • An endowment is advantageous to any project that requires an annual operations budget.

Maggie Bench: designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd and available through Landscape Forms
Light Fixtures: Visor Open Air Luminaire by Erco
Stone: Mankato Kasota limestone by Mankato Kasota
Stone: Rayon Blue Granite by Associated Imports

Project Team

Client: Millennium Park, Inc.
Landscape Architect: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol
Perennial Planting Design: Piet Oudolf
Perennial Grower: Northwind Perennial Farms
Concept Collaborator: Robert Israel
Local Landscape Architect: Terry Guen Design Associates, Inc.
Structural and Civil Engineer: KPFF Consulting Engineers
Lighting Design: Schuler & Shook, Inc.
Water Feature Design: CMS Collaborative
Irrigation Design: Jeffrey L. Bruce & Company, LLC
Mechanical and Electrical Engineer: EME, LLC
Specification Writer: ArchiTech
Cost Estimator: Davis Langdon Adamson
Project Management: Spectrum Strategies

Role of the Landscape Architect

Served as the Lead Designer and Prime Consultant for the Garden. Led a team of specialists including Piet Oudolf (Perennial Plantsman), Robert Israel (Concept Collaborator), as well as water feature consultants, lighting designers, and others to develop a 4-season botanical garden on top of a parking garage in downtown Chicago.


Stormwater management, Water conservation, Populations & species richness, Carbon sequestration & avoidance, Recreational & social value, Educational value, Economic development, Trees, Native plants, Local materials, Biodiversity, Placemaking

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