For more than a hundred years, the factory known as Southworks supplied the structural steel that helped build Chicago's landmark skyscrapers. At its peak, Southworks employed over 20,000 people and operated as a small city. With the decline of the domestic steel industry, Southworks was downsized and eventually closed in 1992. In 2004, Sasaki provided master planning and landscape design for the 620-acre site, creating a new and vibrant mixed-use lakefront community with residential and commercial uses, a clear street network extending the city grid, generous public spaces, and a new lakefront park. The master plan centers on the idea of connectivity—reconnecting the existing residential neighborhoods to the lake and connecting Chicago's famous chain of existing parks to a new 100-acre lakefront park. Sustainability plays a key role at the Lakeside Southworks development. In partnership with the city of Chicago, Lakeside is pursuing LEED® for Neighborhood Development Certification. The Southworks site that once stood in testimony to Chicago's past is fast developing into a model for the city's future.
Sasaki's plan details several thousand residential units, a regional retail center, commercial uses, civic and cultural uses, an extensive system of open space and recreational facilities, and a new marina that accommodates several thousand boat slips. The plan features numerous innovative strategies. Working closely with the local civil and geotechnical engineering consultants, the team proposed that much of the site's watershed—currently 86%—directly infiltrate into the soil, thereby bypassing Chicago's combined sewer system and returning directly to the lake. As part of the conceptual stormwater management plan required by the city, the team developed a configuration of "finger parks" that serve as large-scale biofiltration and infiltration areas. In a joint city-state initiative, clean dredge material is brought to the site from downstate Illinois, which enriches the site's current soil profile and capacity to sustain new landscape strategies. Refinements to the stormwater plan include pervious pavements for alleys and parking lanes, rain gardens in roadway medians, and the storage and reuse of rainwater from the larger roof catchment areas.
Sasaki also developed an interim site plan reforestation strategy to develop forest cover on undeveloped portions of the site. This low-cost, low-maintenance strategy creates an early vegetative cover at Chicago Lakeside, offers potential wildlife habitat over time, enhances the visual appearance of the abandoned site, assists in establishing a more organic soil profile, and allows for potential transplanting as parcels are developed. Sasaki prepared a detailed analysis of planting costs, maintenance costs, success rate, planting species, and planting matrix for the site.
The development will be phased in over several decades. Currently, US Highway 41 (Lake Shore Drive) has been rerouted through the site according to Sasaki's plan. A first phase of retail and residential uses is under schematic and design development. The project remains highly active and a focus of interest and news in Chicago. The site has been utilized for several interim events, including a major concert series in the summer of 2011.