With the recent opening of Ross Barney Architects’ public Riverwalk, Chicago is taking a much harder look at its “second shoreline.” Unlike the Lake Michigan public shoreline however, improvements to the riverbanks rely on developers, as most of the land is private. Unfortunately, since the city laid out its “Chicago River Corridor Design Guidelines and Standards” in 2005, there has been so little development along the river that only now is the city is getting a glimpse of its possible benefits. With the last two major projects along the rivers edge being the Trump Tower and 300 N. LaSalle, both finished in 2009, the city anxiously watches as private development along the river once again picks up. Now with three riverfront towers well under construction, and two more planned all around the convergence of the north, south, and main branches, the river is looking to be a much different place one year from now.
Already in full form is bKL Architecture’s Wolf Point West tower. The 500-foot-tall, 48-story residential tower is the smallest structure in the master plan by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and includes two taller towers and an improved public river walk. With 510 units, ranging from studios to three bedroom apartments, the balcony-laden tower is destined to become highly sought-after housing stock. Positioned on a small piece of land jutting out into the river, views to and from the tower are uninterrupted from almost all directions. Substantial completion is planned for years end, and it is already becoming hard to remember, or believe, that there was once a flat parking lot on the site.
Courtesy Goettsch Partners
Also occupying a former riverfront parking lot is the quickly rising Pickard Chilton-designed River Point tower at 444 W. Lake Street. Across the river from Wolf Point, the 730-foot-tall office tower sits on axis with the main branch of the river looking east. Bucking the recent trend of concrete towers in the city, River Point is a steel structure that finds its form in intersecting parabolic curves. “The curves are a response to the river and the train tracks that run below the building, as well as the building’s relationship to 333 Wacker across the river,” Pickard Chilton design principal and Chicago native, Anthony Markese said. With both Ogilvie and Union train stations directly to the south, the site sees some of the busiest train traffic in the city. Now thanks to the building’s new plinth covering the tracks, the public will soon be able to access the river in front of the building on the recently finished 1.5-acre riverfront plaza. Markese described the project as something of a “tower in a park, in the middle of the city.” The west side of the building, along Canal Street, will also have public programing, including a triple-height glazed lobby, retail space, and the entrance to a two story restaurant that will extend through the plinth to the river-side of the building. The city will not have to wait long see the final form of the building, as it is scheduled to top out before years end.
Courtesy Goettsch Partners
At 732 feet tall, the tallest of the three towers is the 150 N. Riverside Tower by Goettsch Partners, just to the south of River Point along the South branch of the river. Also a mostly-steel tower, Riverside comes down to the ground on an extremely slender site. Taken up mostly by the same rail tracks that traverse the River Point tower site, the lot has been vacant for nearly 50 years. Continuing with the theme of enhancing the river’s edge, a large green-roofed plinth will cap the tracks and hold a restaurant and public plaza. For the majority of the 51 stories, floor plates are cantilevered off of both sides of the elevator core to the east and west. In what will be possibly the largest of its kind, a 110-foot-tall glass fin wall will enclose the lobby on the west side of the building, sheltered under the cantilevering floorplates above. Besides the public outdoor space along the river and at the base of the tower, setbacks allow for private outdoor terraces at its upper levels.
With no building allowed on the lakeshore, developers have finally seemed to realize that if they want to be near water, then the river is their best bet. With remediation underway to clean up the polluted water and extensive city-funded shore improvements, the river is quickly becoming the focus of the downtown. No longer are buildings turning their backs on the water, and more and more the public is being given easement across private plazas to get to its banks. With so much attention on the river, it is only a matter of time before people remember that the old symbol of Chicago, the circle inscribed Y found on so many public buildings and bridges, represents the branches of the river that were once so integral to the city.