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Zip-Line Across The Chicago River? New Exhibit Explores Radical Ideas To Activate The Waterway

By Stephen Gossett in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 22, 2017 10:28PM

Don't tell Rahm we said so, but the city has actually done a pretty admirable job of activating what's now known as the downtown Riverwalk (pricey as it was). And with the North Branch Corridor now poised for transformation, we'll will likely see the pattern of new riverside amenities grow further. But there's plenty more waterway where those two came from, which is why a new exhibition of designs has arrived, to explore creative options for how other riverside sites might similarly be awakened one day.

Dubbed the River Edge Ideas Lab, the new exhibition brings together nine high-profile architecture firms, including Studio Gang, Ross Barney Architects and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), to share their creative (sometimes wildly so) concepts for three distinct river sites. Each site was picked "because of their typical condition that is found throughout the city’s river system." There's a building edge, adjacent to the Civic Opera Building; an open-space edge, across either side of Congress Parkway; and a bridge edge, down along a largely vacant stretch of the South Branch, but which includes the St. Charles Air Line Bridge.

The ideas on display are thrilling to consider, including a riverfront stage to complement the Civic Opera and swooping pathways where spectators might see a film projected along the facade. Or even more ambitious, how about a riverside network of active spaces, with a velodrome, skateboarding park, kayak landing and performance venue? Or maybe a stadium for boat and swim races that also supports (why not?) rock climbing and cross-river zip-lining?

Those are just a handful of the concepts explored in the Lab, which is on view now at Expo 72 Gallery (72 E. Randolph St.) through Jan. 7, in conjunction with the Chicago Architectural Biennial. You can also preview the ideas here and of course find a sample of some of our favorites in the gallery above. With any luck, maybe we'll see one or two in reality someday.