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Rowin’ on the River
Studio Gang completes a second public boathouse along the Chicago River
As the first snow of the season fell, a large crowd gathered along a quiet bend in the South Branch of the Chicago River. Jovial groups of teens, community members, and public officials were all there for the opening of the Eleanor Boathouse at Park 571 in the South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport. The boathouse is the second designed by Studio Gang Architects and the final of four boathouses planned for the Chicago River.
The boathouses are part of a much larger movement within the city to connect the public with the underutilized river. Though the river is still heavily polluted—two half-sunken boats can be seen up river from the Eleanor Boathouse—the city is quickly improving its resources along the shore. The boathouses specifically provide space for rowing teams to train, kayaks to be rented, and people to directly access the water.
“The Eleanor Boathouse supports the larger movement of ecological and recreational revival of the Chicago River,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at the opening. “For too long, Chicago residents were cut off from an asset in our own backyard. So today, we are transforming our rivers from relics of our industrial past to anchors for our neighborhoods’ futures.”
Like Studio Gang’s earlier iteration, the Eleanor Boathouse takes its form from the rhythmic movements of rowers. Divided into two structures, undulating rooflines allow for clerestories, which bring soft light into the project. The lofty interior of the 13,171-square-foot boat storage structure can hold up to 75 boats for use by several rowing teams, clubs, and organizations. The other structure is a 5,832-square-foot field house that contains a multipurpose community room, main office, open seating area, restrooms, and showers, and can accommodate 57 “erg” machines, which simulate rowing movements for training purposes. A dark zinc facade wraps most of the project, while one face of the boat storage building is a custom green gradient window screen.
While Chicago’s winters can be brutal, the boathouse is already under heavy use. Rowing teams train in the river nearly year-round and there is also classroom and activity space for after-school and community programs. “This connects us to the origins of the city. The river is the first reason that the native peoples and eventually Fort Dearborn were settled here,” said Studio Gang’s Managing Principal Mark Schendel at the opening. “And it is that potential to come back to that amazing resource and put citizens back on the water. It is the type of project, as architects, we love to do.”
Studio Gang to design Arkansas Art Center expansion
Facade tuning with Studio Gang
Studio Gang Wins
AN Exclusive: Studio Gang beats out Michael Maltzan and Allied Works to design unified California College of the Arts campus
Studio Gang’s research-based approach to ecological design rethinks the shape of urban waterfronts
As Studio Gang gains respect as an office that builds formally and programmatically ambitious projects, one aspect in particular has helped the firm continue to be a major force: It is an office that does its homework. Every project that the studio does is accompanied by a body of research as well as collaborations with experts often outside of architecture. “As architects, we think of our role as being that of the translator,” explained Claire Cahan, design director at Studio Gang. “Early on in the project we bring in experts from interdisciplinary fields to discuss the past, present, and future conditions of a site. Our job is to ask questions and translate ideas between disciplines.” This becomes particularly visible in projects that involve water ecologies.
After a yearlong study in collaboration with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), the studio released Reverse Effect (2011). The book explored urban and ecological implications of severing the link between the Chicago River and the Mississippi River, effectively reversing the flow of the Chicago River to its original direction (something that has actually happened three times). The book presented a new Chicago that embraced a reshaped river as part of its cultural and civic space.
“We’re interested in the intersection between built and natural environments,” said Cahan about the office’s broader vision and approach. “While building projects typically have distinct property lines and boundaries, natural systems often intersect with property lines in a fluid way. Through research, which includes conversation, mapping, and analysis, we seek to understand the natural, cultural, economic conditions far beyond a property line.”
A similar study, in collaboration with Milwaukee-based Applied Ecological Services and Edgewater Resources, looked at the 1,000-acre Milwaukee harbor. The Edge Effect master plan set out to establish a framework and logic for Milwaukee’s waterfront development. The master plan envisions relocating the current active inner harbor to a new outer harbor, while bringing the city to the water’s edge. The process would include softening the coastline to achieve a more complete and sustainable ecosystem by learning from stable natural coastlines and reefs. This concept is already being deployed in the Studio Gang–designed improvements to Chicago’s Northerly Island, which has a similar geographic situation.
Studio Gang fuses storage and display in their design for a traveling photography exhibition
- Architecture Studio (France)
- Dominique Perrault Architecture (France)
- MAD Architects (China) & DGLA (France)
- nAOM (Franklin Azzi Architecture, Chartier Dalix, Hardel-Lebihan Architectes) (France)
- OMA (The Netherlands)
- PLP Architecture (UK)
- Studio Gang (USA)