Project DescriptionRoss 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.