What does climate change sound like? Working with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Chicago-based architectural installation artists Luftwerk hope to answer this question for pedestrians along the Chicago River. White Wanderer will be a large scale visual and audio installation that will bring the sounds of Antartica's melting and moving ice to 2 N. Riverside Plaza in the West Loop. The 17,000-square-foot Larsen C ice shelf has been watched by scientists for the past 20 years as warming seas threatened to break it apart. This past July, 2,300 square miles of the ice shelf broke off Antarctica and floated into the Wendell Sea. It is this new massive iceberg that is the inspiration of White Wanderer. The installation will include sounds rarely heard by humans. An eerie soundtrack of melting and shifting glaciers will fill the plaza. On the front of the historic 1929 Holabird & Root–designed Riverside Plaza building, the artists will install a graphic of the 120-mile rift formed by the ice drifting away from Antarctica. “White Wanderer allows people to hear and see how climate change is impacting our world right now, and contemplate how the consequences of climate change—like flooding and sea level rise—will dramatically change the way our lives will be lived in the not-too-distant future,” said Rob Moore, senior water policy expert at the NRDC, in a press release. To realize the project, the team has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $17,000. Rewards include downloads of the icy soundtrack, renderings of the rift, and a limited edition vinyl album. If funding goals are reached, the installation will be on show from September 7 through October 1, 2017. The show will also be seen on Navy Pier as part of EXPO Chicago and the Chicago Architecture Biennial from September 13 through September 17, 2017. Petra Bachmaier of Luftwerk said in a press release, “By bringing this remote Antarctic place to an urban center like Chicago, we hope to instill a sense of wonder of the natural world to inspire people to take action to protect these extraordinary places.”
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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.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJsaAPfZX50&feature=youtu.be 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.