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Riverwalk Construction: Assembling the Jetty

Construction on the third and final phase of Chicago Riverwalk is well underway. This phase is comprised of three “river rooms”—the Water Plaza, the Jetty, and the Riverbank. While each of the rooms are marked by unique design and programming elements, the Jetty is incorporating several innovative features that ensure not only a great experience for Chicagoans and visitors above the water—but also for those who live below the surface. Designed as a floating wetland, the Jetty will provide a healthy habitat for the Chicago River’s diverse native fish population, as well as educational and recreational opportunities for visitors to observe and interact with the aquatic ecosystem.

“We started off thinking about this experimental idea of a ‘fish hotel,'” says Sasaki Principal Gina Ford, ASLA, in explaining some of the “low-tech” interventions that were designed to attract fish. “We worked closely with our in-house ecology team to understand what it would mean to actually create a fish habitat in this space, and something that would really work. One of the solutions is a ‘pole hula,’ which is basically nylon ropes attached to the edges of the caissons that hold up the walkway. They’re great for growing algae and a breeding ground for amphibious insects—both primary food sources for fish. Additionally, we’re installing “lunkers,” perforated steel cylinders, which provide a place for fish to hide from the current and predators.”

Critical to the aquatic ecosystem are the plants in the floating wetland whose roots will provide opportunities for biofilm to grow, acting as a filter for the river water. This unique plant palette was designed by Terry Ryan, ASLA, of Jacobs/Ryan Associates, and includes a variety of sedges and irises.

These low-cost interventions, paired with floating gardens that mimic natural wetland flora and colorful fish lights, all contribute to the idea of the “floating wetland.” The Jetty falls in line with understanding that truly sustainable design accounts for the whole environment—not only for humans, but also for all species of wildlife and plants potentially impacted by a design.

Phase Three of the Chicago Riverwalk will be completed and open to the public this Fall. See below for more photos chronicling the Jetty’s construction.

Click here for another deep dive into river ecology with “The Love Below: A 4D Take on Riverfront Design,” written by Ford.

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