If you start at Studio Gang’s acclaimed Aqua Tower and follow the Chicago River about six miles north you will find yourself at another eye-catching building by the increasingly in-demand firm. The WMS Boathouse at Clark Park, completed in 2013, sits along the very polluted north branch of the river and has a dramatic profile inspired by the rhythm of rowers’ oars. (The building is named for the gaming technology company that contributed to the project and has offices directly across the river.)
The boathouse is one of four commissioned by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to help draw people toward—and hopefully onto—the city’s industrial and neglected waterways, which he calls Chicago’s “next recreational frontier.” The idea is that if Chicagoans come to see the rivers as an urban asset it will create momentum to get them cleaned up. And any environmental revitalization would go hand-in-hand with economic revitalization, especially outside of the city’s core where the first phase of the Riverwalk opened this summer.
Studio Gang—which designed two of the structures, the second of which recently broke ground on Chicago’s south side—was an obvious choice for Emanuel’s bold river vision. In 2011, the firm, working with the Natural Resource Defense Council and students from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, published Reverse Effect—a 116-page book that lays out the waterways’ history and proposes innovative ways to renew them. (The Chicago-based Johnson & Lee oversaw the other pair of boathouses.)
The Architect’s Newspaper recently visited the WMS Boathouse with Studio Gang founder Jeanne Gang, and went kayaking with her to talk about the boathouse, the river, and how her firm plans to continue producing unique architecture as its influence expands around the Midwest and beyond.