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Voices of the Lake: Imagining the Future of Lake Monona’s Waterfront

Following 14 weeks of research, community listening, and design, Sasaki designers revealed their proposal for Lake Monona’s waterfront in Madison, Wisconsin. “Voices of the Lake: Monona’s Waterfront” envisions how Lake Monona can become a destination for years to come, while reflecting the voices of communities who have called the lake home for generations past. 

Watch Sasaki’s final presentation below, submit your thoughts on all three teams’ designs via this survey, and read on for more information.

Madison’s Changing Lakes

Madison is a thriving capital city with a history that is inseparable from its lake system. Millennia ago, Madison’s system of five lakes was part of a single water body, Lake Yahara. This freshwater lake and the fertile land around it became home to the first human inhabitants of the area, the Ho-Chunk Nation. Madisonians’ relationship to the lake has evolved since then, along with its very geography; Lake Monona today is largely defined by human usage.

“This is not our land, this is grandmother earth.”

Traditional Chief Clayton Winneshiek, at Ho-Chunk Ceremony of Blessing and Releasing the Land, UW Lakeshore Preserve Outreach Center

Our Vision: Amplifying All Voices

Lake Monona Waterfront’s redesign is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a waterfront that reflects the 21st century values of Madison. This is a rare chance to reflect the diverse voices of the city—past and present—and plan for future users.

Sasaki’s multidisciplinary team of local and national landscape architects, architects, engineers, and ecologists have closely collaborated to create an ambitious and feasible master plan. Through on-site visits, in-depth conversations, analysis of community feedback, and technical due diligence, the design team has envisioned a lake edge that amplifies all voices.

Sasaki’s vision for Lake Monona’s waterfront comes from the following themes that emerged from conversations with community members about the city’s and lake’s future:

  • Water Dialogue: Creating a Living Edge Along Lake Monona’s Shoreline
  • Nature Dialogue: Inspiring Generational Stewards
  • City Dialogue: A Place for All to Connect & Be Connected
  • Community Dialogue: Enhancing Equitable Access to Parks
  • Culture Dialogue: Starting with the Sacred Voices
  • Architecture Dialogue: A Balanced Perspective

Reviving the Waterfront in Four Zones

Voices of the Lake prioritizes the establishment of an ecologically vibrant living edge along Lake Monona’s waterfront. This living edge framework is a restoration strategy that will protect and provide a habitat for amphibious life. Green infrastructure, like rain gardens and wetlands, will capture and clean stormwater before it enters Lake Monona.

The design plans for pedestrian infrastructure that creates a stronger connection to the core of downtown and south neighborhoods such as Bay View, Bay Creek and Alliant Energy Center. Improved intersections, widened walking paths, and separated bike lanes will create a new waterfront that is accessible for all people. Destinations at Law Park, S. Hamilton Street, the John Nolen Causeway, and Olin Park bring new programming which will activate Lake Monona’s waterfront throughout the whole year.

Voices of the Lake is woven together by the Story Walk, a wayfinding element and physical representation of each of the guiding principles and dialogues. This unifying ribbon shifts in scale across the site, manifesting as a graphic on a sidewalk, as ephemeral carvings in ice, or as quotes on a wall that connect the past, present, and future of Lake Monona’s waterfront.

The 1.7-mile long plan will be divided into four distinct zones and potential phases: Law Park Ledge will include a new park over the John Nolen Drive, an outdoor amphitheater, a community boat house, a restaurant, and a restored lake edge; the Lake Lounge showcases the living lake edge, new areas for food trucks, and an iconic connection back to the Capitol; Community Causeway grants bikers, walkers, and runners safe access along the lake while using green infrastructure to clean stormwater runoff from John Nolen Causeway; finally, Olin Overlook creates a park that gives a reprieve from everyday life. There, a new nature center will provide opportunities to learn about the successional forest within the park and offer incredible views back to the city.

The Sasaki team considered current and future construction projects, available funds, and funding opportunities in our proposed phasing strategy. Phase 1, Lake Lounge, meets the top priorities of the community and creates a strong pedestrian connection from downtown Madison to Lake Monona’s shoreline. The phase’s emphasis on green infrastructure allows for the wetland strategies to be tested while its wide range of open space programming allows the community to explore all Lake Monona has to offer.

The competition will now enter an eight-week review period, during which members of the public can submit their feedback on all the teams’ designs. Take the survey here.


Watch Sasaki’s final presentation below (starting at 59:30):

Read more about the competition in the press:

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