A century in the making

Monday 05 Oct 2009

Riverwalk completion in Chicago ties up 100 years of plans

Both as the hometown of America's man of the moment, President Obama and as the US offering city for the Olympics, the Windy City of Chicago has been in the spotlight of late. But despite failing to impress the Olympic committee, Chicago can take some solace in the architectural achievements made in the run up to the bid.

Chicago has more to offer than just the Trump Tower and Wrigley Field. One of the latest offerings, coming from the offices of Ross Barney Architects is Riverwalk Wabash Plaza, a $20million development giving city dwellers and tourists the opportunity to enjoy the Chicago riverside.

The Riverwalk has been formed over the last seven years along the bank of the Chicago River, although plans for the beautification of the river area were drawn up as long ago as 1909. Paris and the Seine walkway were used as a model for the recreational space and the extension further west to State Street will be opened during the next month. In Paris the pathway by the Seine is used by cyclists and walkers, and in an innovative move, as a city beach in August for those who cannot get away from the city to bask in the sun.

In Chicago there may be little call for the walkway to be converted to a beach but it has many other uses, offering a quiet multi-purpose space to office workers escaping from the workplace at lunchtimes, as well as somewhere for the tourist to seek a quiet moment or two away from the other attractions of the city. A central feature of the project is a $3million memorial naming the fallen Illinois soldiers from the Vietnam conflict. Cut into limestone and preceded by water fountains, the memorial provides a green refuge from the bustle of the city and a place for reflection.

The walkway runs along the riverside from Wabash Avenue Bridge in the centre of the city. Where the walkway runs under the Michigan Avenue Bridge, there is a composition of reflective metal ‘shingles’ overhead that protect walkers and joggers passing underneath the bridge from the possibility of debris falling from above whilst artistically reflecting the activities below.

The use of the river as an industrial conduit has waned over time, and there is no longer the commercial traffic there was in the past, but the leisure use of the area on the riverbank has been warmly welcomed by the city’s population. There are also thought to be plans to form a 50 ft wide public park alongside the walkway which will extend the public use of the space.

One city centre business man commented: “I think it will be a super addition to the city providing local and visitors an opportunity to experience the river as the first settlers to the region did when they first came across the great plains to trade their wares.”

So even if Chicago has not won the Olympics it has won gold in opening up the riverside for public use.

Phyllis Stephen

Key Facts:

Urban design
United States

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