Main Branch Riverwalk | Ross Barney Architects

By:Sara Hart
Concept diagram
Wabash Plaza and riverwalk site plan
Wabash Plaza
Wabash Plaza veterans memorial fountain
Aerial construction photo of Wabash Plaza
Michigan Avenue Riverwalk canopy seen from opposite river bank
Wabash Avenue Riverwalk canopy

Ross Barney Architects • Main Branch Riverwalk is a series of open, paved plazas and landscaped parks connected by river-level paths from Chicago’s urban core to Lake Michigan. The concept is to create an uninterrupted pedestrian circulation route near the water, separated from automobile traffic on the upper level of Wacker Drive.

New canopies positioned on the underside of bridges protect pedestrians from falling debris. Their concave shape creates a natural reflector that catches light from the water. Where they can be touched, the metal tiles forming the canopy are sanded for pedestrian safety and easy maintenance. At higher levels, tiles are polished and reflect the water. New railings cantilever at the river’s edge so that water seems to lap under the path. Where the path veers from the edge, it is lined with boulders and plantings.

Jurors thought that opening the riverfront to cyclists and pedestrians was an important addition to Chicago’s urban fabric. “For one thing, it allows you to walk along that whole river’s edge, which never happened before. You couldn’t go under the bridges,” juror Donna Robertson commented. Scott Kilbourn liked the fact that “people are using their legs to move.”

The design varies the experience with “rooms” between the bridges, and there are destinations to draw people down to the river. The Wabash Memorial Plaza (pictured) is a focal point, providing a landscaped refuge and linking Wacker Drive to the riverfront development. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fountain on the plaza is a wall of water that cuts into the limestone and spills into a pool. A timeline of significant events during the war and the names of Illinois soldiers who died line the sides of the pool.

Project Credits

Main Branch Riverwalk, Chicago
Client Chicago Department of Transportation—Michelle Woods (project manager); Daniel Burke (deputy commissioner)
Architect of Record Ross Barney Architects, Chicago—Carol Ross Barney (design principal); John Alejandro Fried (principal-in-charge)
Landscape Architect Jacobs/Ryan Associates—Terry Ryan (design principal)
Structural and Civil Engineering Collins Engineers—Stan L. Kaderbek (principal-in-charge)
General Contractors Walsh Construction (Michigan Avenue Riverwalk)—Jeff Tripp (project manager); Rausch Construction Co. (Wabash Avenue Riverwalk)—Danielle Dy Buncio (project manager)
Size 70,000 square feet
Cost $300 per square foot
Photography Kate Joyce, Hedrich Blessing Photographers


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