Chicago Riverwalk

Location: Chicago, Illinois

The Chicago Riverwalk stretches along the south edge of the Chicago River. It is a pedestrian-only open waterfront located below street level. This famed revitalization initiative to reclaim the Chicago River for it’s ecological, recreational, and economic benefit was finally completed toward the end of 2016, after many years of design planning.

Known as the “second lakefront” of Chicago, the Riverwalk runs through downtown Chicago and now provides an elegant setting for walking, jogging, or simply sitting and enjoying the magnificent view of the surrounding buildings.

The plan to recreate the riverside promenade was a challenging one, with the design team consisting of Sasaki, Ross Barney Architects, Alfred Benesch Engineers, Jacobs/Ryan Associates, and a wider consulting team including GreenBlue Urban.

Called by some as the most exciting element of the Riverwalk redevelopment, is what the designers refer to as the River Theater. This block-wide sculptural staircase features an amphitheater style stairway linking the river to the adjacent street.

The River Theater was conceived as a space where the streetscape folds down to the river. It offers pedestrians connectivity to the water’s edge, while trees provide greenery and shade. The area has the capacity to seat more than 750 people in the occurrence of riverside events.

Three continuous, linear ArborSystem planters were built into the stairs to support the 17 honey locust trees that punctuate the staircase. A water-harvesting system collects the stormwater drained from the River Theater in an underneath structure, which is stored and supplied as irrigation to the trees.