River Edge Ideas Lab - Metropolitan Planning Council

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River Edge Ideas Lab

Nine new visions for Chicago’s riverfront from world-class architects

Painting, hammering and sawing wood isn’t what we typically do around MPC, but we’ve been hard at work preparing our latest project, the River Edge Ideas Lab, an exhibit we unveiled today with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Dept. of Planning and Development (DPD), nine world-class architecture and design teams and other partners and funders.

Imagine riding a zipline across the river into Ping Tom Park. Imagine sunbathing on a new, riverfront beach.

The River Edge Ideas Lab is a one-of-a-kind, public exhibition of visions for the South Branch of the Chicago River. Imagine riding a zipline across the river into Ping Tom Park. Imagine sunbathing on a new, riverfront beach. Imagine watching live nighttime theatre projected onto the back side of the Lyric Opera House, perched atop a floating pavilion. These are the inspiring visions you’ll find when you visit Expo 72, 72 E. Randolph St., through Jan. 8, 2018, or online at www.ChiRiverLab.com. The full website launches on Saturday, Sept. 16. 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,” said Mayor Emanuel. “It is our second waterfront, and this initiative gives us the chance to consider ways to reimagine our riverfront for future generations.”

window decals being installed via workers on a crane

Chloe Gurin-Sands

River Lab team members installing window graphics on the East side of Expo 72

As part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, 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,” said 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.”

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. 

Volunteers assemble exhibits for Expo 72 at Ross Barney Architects' studio.

“We want Chicagoans to be amazed by the creativity and possibilities that will provide for a truly engaging and harmonious riverwalk experience,” said 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.”

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,” said Kim Coventry, executive director of the Driehaus Foundation, one of the exhibit’s co-sponsors.

MPC's Kara Riggio and Chloe Gurin-Sands paint floor at Expo 72.

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.

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.


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