This winter, visitors to Chicago's Navy Pier are invited to experience The Beach, a traveling interactive art installation created by New York-based design practice, Snarkitecture, in partnership with EXPO CHICAGO. Led by Snarkitecture partners Alex Mustonen, Daniel Arsham and Ben Porto, the installation transforms Navy Pier’s historic 18,000-square-foot Aon Grand Ballroom into an ocean of over one million recyclable, antimicrobial plastic spheres.
According to Snarkitecture partner Alex Mustonen, the installation centers around an infill of one million antimicrobial balls "like you would see at a children's play space" that have been stripped away of color to create an "immersive and playful experience rooted in the feelings of a day at the beach." The installation is housed in a controlled 72-degree environment, and the day-at-the-beach vibe is rounded out with a deck chair seating area and an array of beach toys. Mustonen notes that the team even employed visual cues and signage adapted from local Chicago beaches as an insider nod to the Chicago beach scene. The Beach was first installed in 2015 at The National Building Museum in Washington D.C., and has since traveled to such locales as Sydney, Paris and Bangkok, with each iteration offering slight variations in size and theme.
A million white balls aside, a unique aspect of the Chicago iteration of The Beach is the installation of a modern pop-up experience in the historical context of Navy Pier's Aon Ballroom. This was an intentional decision, according to Michelle T. Boone, Navy Pier's Chief Program and Civic Engagement Officer. Boone notes that, while the 34-acre Navy Pier complex contains a multitude of large event spaces, both the EXPO and Snarkitecture teams "liked the contrast between the contemporary look of the installation and the historical background of the space," which was originally designed by architect Charles Sumner Frost and constructed in 1916 as part of Navy Pier’s original structure. The teams also liked the ballroom's setting, which offers 360-degree views of Lake Michigan and surrounding beaches as "sort of a beach within a beach" according to Mustonen.
The Beach is free to the public, and while Boone did not cite specific costs of this installation, she states that this type of programming is made possible through the support of The Chicago Free For All Fund at The Chicago Community Trust, the Navy Pier Associate Board and Hilton Worldwide. Whether visitors go for an experience, for the Instagram pictures or simply wander in out of curiosity, Mustonen hopes the installation sparks an opportunity to "leave behind the everyday, relax and engage with this space in a new way."