The third and final phase of the Chicago Riverwalk is officially open to the public. Designed by Sasaki and Ross Barney Architects, the 1.5 mile long promenade revitalizes an underutilized industrial area into an active public space featuring restaurants, cultural activities and amenities while reconnecting the Chicago River to the urban fabric of the city.
“The swampy Chicago River gave birth to arguably the greatest city of the 20th Century,” said lead design architect Carol Ross Barney. “In Chicago’s formative years, the river was its lifeline, brimming with traffic. Burnham built his 1909 plan on a civic waterway and promenade along the river. We were entrusted with the responsibility of to finally complete that vision and transform what had become a postindustrial leftover into a 21st century urban waterfront."
The 15-year-long project was completed in 3 phases. Phase 1, completed in 2009, includes Chicago’s Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, Wabash Plaza, and the Bridgehouse Museum Plaza, while phases 2 and 3 are home to six “conceptual, outdoor rooms” each designed to interact with the waterfront in a unique way.
Joining the phase 2 additions, “the Marina,” “the Cove,” and the “River Theater” (completed in 2015), will be the “Water Plaza,” featuring a sundeck and children’s fountain; “the Jetty,” an interactive river ecology learning area; and “the Boardwalk,” a space for relaxing and enjoying views of nearby floating gardens.
Designed to act as the missing seam between Wacker Drive’s Beaux Arts architecture and the natural landscape of the River, the architects hope that the Chicago Riverwalk will become a public amenity that promotes the stewardship and protection of one of Chicago’s most precious resources, the river. Looking forward, the riverwalk has been designed to be expanded into a swimming area for a future when the water is clean and swimmable.
“This project capitalizes on existing infrastructure, bringing people to the water’s edge and enabling them to walk along the river continuously without needing to move up to the street level to cross to the next block,” said Gina Ford, design principal for Sasaki, the project’s prime consultant. “The end result is an ecologically sensitive design that improves water quality, enhances visitor experiences and serves as a revenue generator for the city.”
Correction Update: This article has been updated to include Sasaki as one of the project's designers and to add a quote from Sasaki principal Gina Ford.