River Edge Ideas Lab: 9 New Visions for Chicago’s Riverfront From World-Class Architects

River Edge Ideas Lab: 9 New Visions for Chicago’s Riverfront From World-Class Architects

Imagine riding a zipline across the Chicago river into Ping Tom Park. Imagine sunbathing on a new, riverfront beach. Imagine watching live nighttime theater projected onto the back side of the Lyric Opera House, perched atop a floating pavilion.

These are just a few of the ideas presented at the River Edge Ideas Lab, an exhibit launched by Metropolitan Planning Council, Chicago Department of Planning and Development, nine world-class architecture and design teams, and other partners and funders.

Chicago River Edge Ideas Lab: Sasaki

The River Edge Ideas Lab is a one-of-a-kind, public exhibition of visions for the South Branch of the Chicago River. Located at Expo 72, 72 E. Randolph St., through Jan. 8, 2018, or online at www.ChiRiverLab.com, the public is invited to comment on the designs at the exhibit or online. A traveling version of the exhibit will stop at locations throughout the city.

“More than 120 years ago, Chicago made a decision to turn its lakefront into a park. We now find ourselves at that same juncture with our rivers,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel says. “It is our second waterfront, and this initiative gives us the chance to consider ways to reimagine our riverfront for future generations.”

Chicago River Edge Ideas Lab: Adjaye Associates
Adjaye Associates

As part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, which takes place Sept. 16 to Jan. 7 in downtown Chicago and features more than 140 architects and designers from around the world, participating firms submitted visions for three sites: the Civic Opera House waterfront, beneath the Congress Parkway bridge, and below the St. Charles Air Line Bridge. Each location represents a unique challenge to the Riverwalk’s potential 1.8-mile extension from Lake Street to Ping Tom Park in Chinatown. Participating firms include Adjaye Associates, James Corner Field Operations, Perkins+Will, Ross Barney Architects, Sasaki, site, SOM, Studio Gang and SWA.

“Our rivers wind their way through so many Chicago neighborhoods,” says MarySue Barrett, executive director of MPC, the City’s collaborative partner on the exhibit. “That allows them to create a jolt in investment citywide in residential and commercial growth that is so needed.”

Chicago River Edge Ideas Lab: Perkins+Will

The River Edge Ideas Lab is part of Mayor Emanuel’s ongoing effort to turn the Chicago River into the City’s next recreational frontier. Currently, 17 miles of river trail are in place or under construction, with plans for about seven more miles being finalized. The aspiration of a continuous Chicago River trail was one of the signature elements of Our Great Rivers, a vision for the Calumet, Chicago and DesPlaines rivers, released in 2016 by the City of Chicago, MPC and Friends of the Chicago River.

Chicago River Edge Ideas Lab: site

“We want Chicagoans to be amazed by the creativity and possibilities that will provide for a truly engaging and harmonious riverwalk experience,” says DPD Commissioner David L. Reifman. “The River Edge Ideas Lab will help create a framework for Riverwalk expansion while getting people excited about the possibilities at the same time.”

Chicago River Edge Ideas Lab: Studio Gang
Studio Gang

DPD will incorporate public feedback from the River Edge Ideas Lab into updated River Design Guidelines starting in 2018. The updated guidelines will offer best practices to create a continuous pedestrian and bicycle path with accessible connections and open spaces incorporating integrated landscaping, artwork and lighting.

“The way things are designed matters, and everyone benefits from good design,” says Kim Coventry, executive director of the Driehaus Foundation, one of the exhibit’s co-sponsors.

Chicago River Edge Ideas Lab: SWA

The traveling version of the River Edge exhibit will open Monday, Sept. 18, at the Bridgehouse Museum at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, followed by a new location every two weeks. Special gallery talks and panel discussions involving architects and planners are also scheduled during the four-month exhibition. Further details on these events can be found at chiriverlab.com/events.

Chicago River Edge Ideas Lab: SOM

Additional sponsors of the River Edge Ideas Lab include Comcast, Related Midwest and The 601W Companies. Visualization support was provided by WSP and Autodesk, including the development of a digital model allowing viewers to interact with the 27 visions in an immersive experience. Lead exhibition design by Ross Barney Architects.

Chicago River Edge Ideas Lab: Ross Barney Architects
Ross Barney Architects


More from Make It Better: 

Join Metropolitan Planning Council on Sept. 22 for their 2017 Annual Luncheon, Creating a Winning City: The Team. The Town. The Region. Tom Ricketts will deliver the keynote address and be joined in conversation with Natalie Moore. John A. Canning, Jr. will be honored with the 2017 Champion Fighter Award. Make It Better is a proud media sponsor of this event. 

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