CHICAGO – The final phase of the Chicago Riverwalk officially opened to the public on October 31. It was designed by Ross Barney Architects in collaboration with landscape architects Sasaki Associates.
Once an industrial space in disuse, the Chicago Riverwalk, a 1.5-mile promenade along the Chicago River, has been transformed into a public space lined with amenities, restaurants, cultural activities, and access to natural habitats for city residents and visitors alike.
Design leader for the 15-year project, Chicago Architect, Carol Ross Barney said the goal of the project was to “return the river to Chicago and return Chicagoans to the river.” In 1909, the river was its lifeline, brimming with traffic and a civic waterway and promenade along the river was planned. That vision was finally completed, transforming what had become a postindustrial leftover into a 21st-century urban waterfront.
The final phase of the Riverwalk marks the reclamation of the Chicago River for the ecological, recreational, and economic benefits of the city.
Phase 1, completed in 2009 by Ross Barney Architects, included Chicago’s Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, Wabash Plaza, and the Bridgehouse Museum Plaza, connected at river level. Phase 2 was completed in 2015, and Phase 3 is six conceptual, outdoor “rooms” designed to embrace the river in a variety of ways.
Each of the six spaces in the project generates a distinct experience with the river. Phase 3 additions will complement the Marina, the Cove, and the River Theater, which were completed in Phase 2. The highlights of Phase 3 include:
Water Plaza – The sunniest portion of the park walk features a sundeck to enjoy the views and a children’s fountain where families can interact with water.
The Jetty – An interactive environment for learning about the ecology of the River with a series of piers, floating wetland gardens, fish habitat, native plantings and opportunities for fishing.
The Boardwalk – A space for relaxation and enjoying the view, the Boardwalk has a great lawn for lounging and a striking sloping bridge over floating gardens. 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.
The design of the Chicago Riverwalk acts as a seam between Wacker Drive’s Beaux Arts architecture and the natural landscape of the River. This connection to the River, with remarkable views, water sports, and recreation, and ecology promotes stewardship of this vital natural resource. The Jetty not only educates the public on the ecology of the river, but also helps to foster the river’s healthy growth. The Riverwalk was designed to be forward thinking for resiliency and plans for a future when the water is clean and swimmable.
The myriad of activities offered along the Chicago Riverwalk have already been embraced by the public. On high traffic days, restaurants report 45-minute waits for tables—time easily passed on the waterfront—and water boat and bike tours are sold to capacity. The Chicago Riverwalk has already proved to be an economic and recreational success while providing a beloved public amenity in the heart of an urban core for decades to come.
About Ross Barney Architects:
Ross Barney Architects (www.r-barc.com) is a Chicago-based architecture and urban design studio. Established by Carol Ross Barney, FAIA, the studio occupies a unique place within the panorama of contemporary practice that is characterized by a reputation for work in the public realm. The studio’s ideas and projects have been recognized, published, and exhibited around the world, receiving more than 60 major awards.