CityLab — “From Filth to Fun: Big Designs for the Chicago River”

September 28, 2017

“Until its direction was reversed in 1900, the Chicago River was such a receptacle for effluent and filth that it poisoned Chicagoans’ beloved Lake Michigan (from which they drew their drinking water). Then it was channelized and entombed in concrete. The river has long been the city’s forgotten waterfront.

But that’s steadily changing, as the last decade has seen sections of the Chicago River transition from what was practically an aboveground sewer to a world-class pedestrian promenade and public space, the Chicago Riverwalk.

With the Riverwalk, ‘we are at an inflection point in the same way that 100 years ago, Chicago decided its lakefront would be open and free, and fully accessible,’ says Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. ‘We are now at that point to reimagine what used to be our industrial highway as our new park and recreational space.’

Building on these initial successes, the city has solicited an adventurous set of ideas for future phases of the Riverwalk from a group of nine architecture and landscape architecture firms. The River Edge Ideas Lab exhibit opened earlier this month as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Participating firms include Adjaye Associates, James Corner Field Operations, Perkins+Will, Studio Gang, SWA, and SOM. Three other firms that have already worked on the Riverwalk and other riverside parks (Sasaki, Ross Barney Architects, and Site Design Group) also submitted ideas. ...

Each team offered ideas for three sites, all on the south branch of the river. The furthest south is near Airline Bridge, one of the hulking, dinosaur-scaled bascule bridges that dot the river, located along Related Midwest’s empty parcel. ...

Studio Gang’s proposal builds dense wetland habitats for fish and waterfowl, not unlike their Northerly Island Park. ‘It’s important to highlight the potential of sites like these to foster nature in post-industrial landscapes,’ says Claire Cahan, Studio Gang Design Director, via email. ‘Studio Gang is interested in learning from nature, and how plants and animals can adapt to changing conditions.’”

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