March 9, 2015

Chicago Park District may harness Lake Michigan’s waves to power pipe organ

The Chicago Park District (CPD) proposed installing a wave-powered pipe organ last week as part of a development plan for the lakeshore park space between 45th and 51st Streets.

Though plans to develop this park space, such as a man-made peninsula constructed into Lake Michigan to increase land area, have been in the works since 2006, the proposed pipe organ is a recent addition. Inspired by a wave-powered pipe organ on the Adriatic coast in Zadar, Croatia, CPD Senior Project Manager Bob Foster recently proposed the natural musical attraction to community members in a discussion of the CPD’s plans for the space.

The community members responded favorably to Foster’s proposal, and although the plan for the park space is to be finalized this April, the Chicago Park District hopes for the plan’s approval and for the project to ultimately be completed within the next five years.

The details of the pipe organ’s design will be released in April along with the final plans, but the basis for the project will be the Croatian organ that inspired Foster. Unlike an average pipe organ, the wave-powered pipe organ harnesses its sound from a series of pipes submerged in the water, hidden underneath a series of steps. The steps are lined with slits through which air flows into the pipes from above—clashing with the current moving through the pipes to create notes and chords resembling those created by a pipe organ.

The frequency and length of the resulting chords depend on the strength of both the current and the wind; however, the range in size of the pipes is designed to create harmonious chords to which passersby can connect with nature.