- Project Name
- Chicago Riverwalk
- Ross Barney Architects
- Chicago Department of Transportation
- Project Types
- 7,570,242 sq. meters
- Year Completed
- Shared by
Landscape Architecture; Civil Engineering; Planning; Urban Design; Graphic Design,Hanley Wood
Building Enclosure/Artwork: Ross Barney Architects,Building Enclosure/Artwork: Alfred Benesch Engineers,Landscape Architect: Jacobs/Ryan,Lighting Designer: Schuler Shook,Civil Engineer: Infrastructure Engineers, Inc.,Structural Engineer: Rubinos Mesia Engineering,Building Enclosure/Artwork: Delta Engineering, Inc.,Building Enclosure/Artwork: Dynasty,Geotechnical Engineer: GeoServices Inc.,Other: Sasaki
- Project Status
“A gift to the city, it embraces Chicago’s layered, diverse history by providing a range of amenities that transform the once-neglected riverfront into a vast public space.” —Jury statement
Working with a dynamic team of collaborators from across the design, engineering, and public works sectors—including Jacobs/Ryan Associates, Sasaki, Benesch, Collins Engineers, and Schuler Shook—local firm Ross Barney Architects has accomplished a long-cherished urban dream: giving the Chicago River back to Chicagoans after generations of quasi-neglect.
For nearly a century, the very feature that has made the Loop such a remarkable instance of city planning—the multitiered infrastructural layer cake that is Wacker Drive—has also had the perverse effect of isolating the river’s edge, making it feel like the damp perimeter of a truck-clogged service basement.
The new Chicago Riverwalk project—opened to the public in three phases, and wholly completed in 2016—puts the south side of the waterway back on the map courtesy of a grab bag of programmatic attractions lining its banks, as well as increased access points that make those functional nodes easier to reach.
Operating within a scant 96-foot-deep margin between the water and Lower Wacker Drive, the design team managed to squeeze spaces for such varied activities as boat rentals, outdoor dining, interpretive interactives on river ecology, and public performance venues, all within an elegantly landscaped corridor featuring staircase-style seating with embedded LED lighting, wood-lined benches, and lush greenery.
Operating as a scenic and convenient pedestrian route between the western reaches of the Loop and the Lake Michigan waterfront, the riverwalk is a radical new way to encounter Chicago—one that seems bound to spur future development and ultimately reshape overall patterns of life in the city.
Project: Chicago Riverwalk, Chicago
Client: City of Chicago
Architect: Ross Barney Architects, Chicago . Carol Ross Barney, FAIA, John Fried, AIA, Eric Martin, AIA, Ryan Giblin, AIA, Mordecai Scheckter, AIA, Chantelle Brewer, AIA, Krista Simons Gliva, AIA, Amy Chun, AIA, Huili Feng, AIA, Andrew Vesselinovitch, AIA, Iffat Afsana, AIA, Kevin O'Connor, AIA, Andrew Volckens, AIA, Tiffany Nash, AIA, Sung-Jin Byun, AIA, Jonathan Wlodaver, AIA, Kimberley Patten, AIA, Monica Chadha, AIA, Marc Anderson, AIA, Sean Schrader, Assoc. AIA, Shinya Uehara, Roxanne Henry, David Parisi, Carl Bergamini, Daniel Pohrte, Jonathan Graves, Cayl Hollis, Michael Siciliano, David Cintron, Mark Verwoerdt, Sung-Joon Kim, Tatsuya Iwata, Steven Rohr, Kim Sagami, Craig Hamilton, Ricardo Nabholz, Rajiv Pinto, Sallie Schwartzkopf, Aaron Garbutt, Nicolas Sanchez, Krisjan Gorospe, Dmitry Barsky, David Erven, Darryl Mallett (project team)
Phase 1: Collins Engineers (prime consultant, structural and civil engineering); Jacobs/Ryan Associates (landscape architect)
Phase 2 and 3: Sasaki Associates (prime consultant, landscape architect, civil engineer); Jacobs / Ryan Associates (landscape architect); Benesch (construction management, marine and structural engineering); Schuler Shook (lighting); Conservation Design Forum (river ecology); Fluidity (water feature design); Delta Engineering Group (M/E/P engineering); Infrastructure Engineering (civil engineering); Rubinos & Mesia Engineers (structural engineering)
Size: 1.25 miles
FROM THE AIA:
As early as Burnham and Bennett’s 1909 “Plan of Chicago”, the Main Branch of Chicago River was envisioned as a place of both leisure and commerce. Nearly a century later the Chicago Riverwalk has realized this vision. Through changes in its shape and form, the continuous river level path drives a series of new programmatic connections to the water. Above all, the Riverwalk honors the iconic quality of the existing urban context by embracing and interpreting Chicago’s layered history.
FROM THE 2018 AIA INSTITUTE HONOR AWARDS FOR ARCHITECTURE JURY:
A gift to city, it embraces Chicago's layered, diverse history by providing a range of amenities that provide forward looking opportunities. Transforms the once neglected downtown riverfront into a vast public space. Design that touches everyone. Subtle moments of education and insight into the ecology of the river, educating visitors and residents. It is the reinvention of urban life that brings attention back to the waterfront.
FROM THE AIA:
Utilizing derelict infrastructure, the Chicago Riverwalk is a one-and-a-quarter-mile-long civic space between Lake Michigan and the confluence of the main, north, and south branches of the Chicago River. What might have been unimaginable years ago has been achieved: an activated riverfront in the heart of a booming urban core. The Riverwalk has transformed Chicago and in turn has become a beloved park for residents, visitors, and people of all backgrounds.
FROM THE 2018 AIA INSTITUTE HONOR AWARDS FOR REGIONAL AND URBAN DESIGN JURY:
This is an exemplary urban intervention; the design and execution are perfect. The impact on the community is transformative.
FROM THE ARCHITECTS:
The Main Branch of the Chicago River has a long and storied history that in many ways mirrors the development of Chicago itself. Once a meandering marshy stream, the river first became an engineered channel to support the industrial transformation of the city. Following the famed reversal of the river, in which the city reversed the flow of the Main Branch and South Branch to improve sanitation, architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham introduced a new civic vision of riverside promenades with the addition of the Wacker Drive viaduct. Over the last decade, the role of the river has been evolving with the Chicago Riverwalk project—an initiative to reclaim the Chicago River for the ecological, recreational and economic benefit of the city.
The goal of embracing the river as a recreational amenity seemed impossible years ago given the river's high levels of pollution. But today that vision is becoming a reality. Recent improvements in river water quality and the increased intensity of public recreational use signal growing life along the river, demanding new connections to the water's edge. Accordingly, the Chicago Department of Transportation and Ross Barney Architects led Phase One of the Riverwalk, an initial segment that includes Veteran’s Memorial Plaza and the Bridgehouse Museum Plaza.
In 2012, the team of Sasaki, Ross Barney Architects, Alfred Benesch Engineers, and Jacobs/Ryan Associates, supported by technical consultants, was tasked with completing the vision for Phases Two and Three: six blocks between State Street and Lake Street. Building off the previous studies of the river, the team’s plans provide a pedestrian connection along the river between the lake and the river’s confluence.
The task at hand was technically challenging. The design team, for instance, needed to work within a tight permit-mandated 25-foot-wide build-out area to expand the pedestrian program spaces and negotiate a series of under-bridge connections between blocks. Further, the design had to account for the river’s annual flood dynamics of nearly seven vertical feet.
Turning these challenges into opportunities, the team imagined new ways of thinking about this linear park. Rather than a path composed of 90-degree turns, the team reconceived of the path as a more independent system—one that, through changes in its shape and form, would drive a series of new programmatic connections to the river.
With new connections that enrich and diversify life along the river, each block takes on the form and program of a different river-based typology. These spaces include:
The Marina Plaza: Restaurants and outdoor seating provide views of vibrant life on the water, including passing barges, patrols, water taxis, and sightseeing boats.
The Cove: Kayak rentals and docking for human-powered crafts provide physical connections to the water through recreation.
The River Theater: A sculptural staircase linking Upper Wacker and the Riverwalk offers pedestrian connectivity to the water’s edge and seating, while trees provide greenery and shade.
The Water Plaza: A water feature offers an opportunity for children and families to engage with water at the river’s edge.
The Jetty: A series of piers and floating wetland gardens offers an interactive learning environment about the ecology of the river, including opportunities for fishing and identifying native plants.
The Boardwalk: An accessible walkway and new marine edge creates continuous access to Lake Street and sets the scene for future development in this critical space at the confluence.
As a new connected path system, the Chicago Riverwalk design provides both continuity and variety for a park visitor. The distinct programs and forms of each typological space allow for diverse experiences on the river ranging from dining opportunities to expansive public event programming to new amenities for human-powered craft. At the same time, design materials, details, and repeated forms provide visual cohesion along the entire length of the project. Paving, for instance, mirrors the contrasts of the existing context: A refined cut stone follows the elegant Beaux-Arts Wacker viaduct and bridgehouse architecture, while a more rugged precast plank flanks the lower elevations and underside of the exposed steel bridges.
The first three blocks, from State Street to LaSalle Street, were completed and opened to the public in May, 2015. The construction of the next three blocks began in summer 2015 and was completed in October 2016.