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

CityLab features the River Edge Ideas Lab exhibition at the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial.

“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. The Ideas Lab was organized by the Chicago Department of Planning and Development and the Metropolitan Planning Council, and Ryan Gann of Ross Barney Architects designed the exhibit…

Some proposals embrace this part of the river’s capacity for action and acceleration. One example is Ross Barney Architects’ “St. Charles Raceway” plan, which takes advantage of this section of the river’s straight path to create a venue for boat and swim races, with pedestrian bridges spanning the river like bleachers. (Chicago’s annual Chinatown dragon boat races launch from Ping Tom Park each summer.) Zip lines anchored to the drawbridges offer another invigorating way to engage the river’s infrastructure.”

Read contributor Zach Mortice’s review in full at