Omni Helps to Shape the Chicago River’s Future at Ideas Lab Exhibition


Omni Ecosystems was honored to contribute to the River Edge Ideas Lab, an exhibition at the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Omni closely collaborated with architecture firm Perkins + Will on a conceptual design that would extend the riverwalk and re-animate the Chicago River. Their combined vision—titled Third Nature— creates harmony between the area’s built environment and ecological assets. Their strategy imagines Chicago’s first riverside beach, a vertically oscillating plaza, and a wetland water filtration system, among other forward-thinking concepts.

For the exhibition, the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development and the Metropolitan Planning Council invited nine world-class architecture and landscape architecture firms to develop ideas for three sites along the river: the Civic Opera Edge, the Congress Parkway Edge, and the the Air Line Bridge Edge.

“We developed overarching principles, and dove into what makes each site unique, and explore ways to celebrate that,“ said Michael Skowlund, Omni’s Director of Landscape Architecture who partnered on the project.

For years, the Chicago river edge has been zoned industrial, lined with freight rail, grain towers, steel and lumber yards, and other hallmarks of the city’s industrialization.

Pre-industrialization, the unadulterated landscape looked much different. Tallgrass prairies, beach dunes, dense forest, and wetland marshes were among the ecological treasures bordering the river.

Merging these histories—alternatively known as First Nature and Second Nature— informed the Ideas Lab design, Skowlund said.

Although conceptual, the ideas could have a real impact on future development along the river. The ideas in the exhibition and public feedback will help inform the city’s new river edge design guidelines. 

“There is a push to make the Chicago River an amenity— a space people can access and engage. It is transforming from an industrial river into a recreational river,” Skowlund said. “This is an exciting opportunity to help shape that future!”

The ideas exhibit is free and open to the public. Residents are highly encouraged to voice their opinions and to provide feedback in person or online.

On display September 18-January 7, 2018 at Expo 72, 72 E. Randolph St. 

Omni & Perkins + Will live gallery talk October 10 at Expo 72, 72 E. Randolph St.

Omni Admin