Chicago Riverwalk Expansion Complete With New Amenities

Sasaki and Ross Barney Architects created new connections to enrich this outdoor facility and diversify activities along the Chicago River with the addition of six "rooms."

The World Series isn’t the only excitement to arrive in the Windy City this week. Under the stewardship of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration and Chicago’s Department of Transportation (CDOT), Sasaki and Ross Barney Architects have completed the final phase of the Chicago Riverwalk expansion, creating new connections to enrich this outdoor facility and diversify activities along the river through the design of six unique “rooms.”

“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.”

The Jetty, Chicago Riverwalk, opened October 22, 2016 (Photo: Christian Phillips)

“The swampy Chicago River gave birth to arguably the greatest city of the 20th Century. 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 finally completing that vision, transforming what had become a postindustrial leftover into a 21st century urban waterfront,” said Carol Ross Barney, FAIA, lead design architect for Ross Barney Architects.

“CDOT is very proud to have constructed the Riverwalk, which is the latest example of Chicago’s long history of commitment to design excellence that touches the lives of all Chicagoans,” said CDOT Commissioner, Rebekah Scheinfeld. “It fulfills Daniel Burnham’s plan, which envisioned a riverside promenade that would make the River accessible to residents of Chicago.”

While the project is complete, CDOT, which oversaw design and construction of the project, and the Department of Fleet and Facility Management, which oversees programming, maintenance, operations and vendor agreements, are considering next steps for further development of the last room, The Riverbank.

The newest rooms, which opened on October 22, 2016, include:

  • The Water Plaza: A water feature for children and families to engage with water at the river’s edge.
  • The Jetty: A series of piers and floating wetland gardens with interactive learning about the ecology of the river, including opportunities for fishing and identifying native plants.
  • The Riverbank: Accessible walkway and new marine edge creates continuous access to Lake Street and sets the scene for future development in this critical space at the confluence. It provides an accessible route from lower to upper Wacker and Lake Street. It features a public lawn and the City is continuing to explore possibilities for how the room can be developed.

The first three rooms, which opened in May 2015, include:

  • The Marina Plaza: Restaurants and outdoor seating with views of vibrant life on the water, including passing barges, water taxis and sightseeing boats.
  • The Cove: A kayak information center and docking for human-powered crafts enable physical connections to the water through recreation.
  • The River Theater: A sculptural staircase linking Upper Wacker and the Riverwalk offers pedestrian connectivity to the water’s edge and seating, while trees provide greenery and shade.