Architectural proposals that claim to take back a city’s urban waterfront and offer themselves as a new tourist destination come along, oh, every five minutes or so. And to be sure, Design With Company’s proposal for the existing McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, entitled “The Second Second City,” promises just that. But it also suggests something much stranger and, potentially, much more wonderful: a 1:25 scale miniature replica of the entire city of Chicago on top of the convention center, housed beneath a protected roof where various disaster scenarios — fire, floods, blizzards, you name it — can be tested and simulated, all while an audience, in stadium seating, watches in real time.
Chicago knows its disasters. (And no, we’re not talking about the giant hole on Lakeshore Drive.) A fire destroyed nearly four square miles of the city in 1871. And the McCormick Convention Center itself burned to the ground in a spectacular fire in 1967. But Stewart Hicks and Allison Newmeyer, the designers who came up with the proposal, were more directly influenced by Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Chicago Plan, which became an early landmark in urban planning by advocating a more fluid relationship with the water and surrounding environment.
To that end, the roof of the structure is a transparent mound that will not only house the artificial weather equipment and testing area, but it will also visually echo Lake Michigan behind it, rolling and falling like a topographical map — and hopefully not a giant tidal wave.