While the dream of swimming in the Chicago River is quite far from reality, Chicagoans are now allowed to get closer to the River than before. Since the finalization of phase II, the Riverwalk has become a cherished gathering space for downtown business workers at lunchtime and a weekend hotspot for tourists. New restaurants and bar give outdoor seating along the water, while kayaks can be leased for those looking to get up close and personal. A grand staircase ramp in between the upper Wacker Drive and the River, recognized as the River theater, can often be seen filled with people sitting, reading, meditating, exercising, or simply people-watching. Those with their own ferry can pull up multiple tie-ups, drawing many large yatchs from the lake of Michigan. Part of phase III includes large floating planters, as well as one of the most expected additions to the River walk, a large interactive water plaza.
The major challenge in realizing the progress of the Riverwalk was connecting the seperate rooms. The seemingly simple task was created more difficult by the fact that people frequently pass under the bascule drawbridges, whose permeable decks see some of Chicago's biggest traffic. In order to divide the public from the mechanics of the over one-hundred-years old bridges and protect them from any falling debris from the road above, Ross Barney Architects created canopies to shield the floating paths between the rooms. Those canopies are coated in metallic paneling, reflecting the dappled light off of the water.
Alongside Ross Barney Architects, a team was brought together to realize the project, with Chicago based landscape architects Jacobs/Ryan associates, with Massachusetts-based Sasaki Associates acting as major consultant. Outside of the design, Partners of the Chicago River and Great Rivers Chicago advocated for the Riverwalk. Both associations are dedicated to remediating the River, with a goal of a clean, swimmable river by 2040.
Ever since the launching of the first sections of Riverwalk, the new park has been showered with awards. And this year AIA Chicago gave the Riverwalk with its highest honor, a Distinguished Building Honor Award.