Financial Times – “Riverwalk: complex, urbane and intriguing”

Edwin Heathcote from London’s Financial Times tours the Chicago Riverwalk.

“Chicago’s new Riverwalk could, in its way, be compared to New York’s High Line, both of which are modest plans for the reuse and pedestrianisation of existing industrial infrastructure to create a traffic-free public space in congested city centres. They are both about the same length, around a mile and a half. But building the High Line (now such a success that it has become almost impassable), was a cakewalk compared with the Riverwalk.

The seemingly simple aim of creating a walkway along the Chicago River has taken 16 years (so far), involved legislation enacted through Congress and a complex series of approvals from the Army Corps of Engineers and the US Coast Guard. As well as about $80m raised by the city’s mayor…

The end result is complex, urbane and intriguing. The sections between each bridge are treated, according to architect Carol Ross Barney ‘as a series of rooms’. To each room is attributed a slightly different character, expressed through material, form and function. One, for instance, is conceived as an auditorium with a series of steps and has been successfully used for free public events; one as a garden with plants moored in the water; another as a ‘Water Plaza’ with fountains for kids to splash in. In another ‘room’ the level of the walkway descends right down to the water’s edge to facilitate kayaking, and a new boat rental pavilion has appeared at street level to lure citizens and tourists to the water…

Chicago is perhaps the most architecturally aware city on earth, and certainly one of the first to recognise modern architecture as bursting with potential for mass tourism. The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s cruises take in stunning landmarks from Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina Bay City and the Wrigley Building to the vast Art Deco Merchandise Mart alongside its newer towers.

‘The Riverwalk’s design and architecture,’ Emanuel says, ‘have contributed a new recreational frontier.’ It is an engaging and elegant new platform for the city to continue to understand itself through its architecture.”

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