Chicago River Blue Awards

Learn more about the Chicago River Blue Awards!

For eight years, Friends’ Chicago River Blue Awards program has encouraged and rewarded developments along the river and throughout the watershed that best exemplify sustainable design for people, wildlife, and clean water. The projects are judged by an independent multi-disciplinary jury of planning, consulting, engineering, academic, legal and policy professionals concerned with river-sensitive design.

Winners of the 2018 Chicago River Blue Awards were honored at Friends’ annual gala, the Big Fish Ball, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018, the awards recognize the work of developers, architects, municipalities, planners and others for their creative and river-sensitive approaches to projects within the Chicago River watershed.

The top prize, the Blue Ribbon Award, was won by the Eleanor Street Boathouse, 2828 S. Eleanor St., located in the Chicago South Side’s Bridgeport neighborhood. Designed by Studio Gang, the two-structure serves as a community field house and a rowing, training, and boat storage facility. It has been cited as “a sign of neighborhood rebirth.”

Other projects recognized by Friends include Argyle Shared Streets; the Canal Shores Ecological Restoration Master Plan; River Point; the Eugene Field Park Riffle; and Rockwell Taproom and Brewery.

Blue Ribbon Award

Eleanor Street Boathouse

Chicago, Illinois                                                   

Award Winner: Chicago Park District and Studio Gang

Located in Bridgeport’s Park 571, the Eleanor Street Boathouse was designed to increase community connection to the Chicago River. The boathouse is home to a number of rowing-related organizations, including Recovery on Water, a support group for those who have been afflicted with breast cancer.  Architect Jeanne Gang explains that “by making the riverfront a destination for recreation, anchored by dynamic sustainable architecture, we hope to catalyze long-term stewardship and support for the river’s remediation as well as improve the health of the communities that surround it.”

Additional Project Team Members: dbHMS, Faithful+Gould, Matrix Engineering Corporation, SPACECO, Inc., Terry Guen Design Associates, WMA Consulting Engineers

Silver Ribbon Award

Argyle Shared Streets

Chicago, Illinois

Award Winner: Chicago Department of Transportation and Site Design Group

Based on a “shared street” design that creates a plaza-like ambiance by raising the street and eliminating curbs, the Argyle project  is Chicago’s first effort of this kind. Pavers delineate wide sidewalks at street level, and the project features sidewalk planters, bike racks, and large pedestrian areas that allow for sidewalk cafes. Site Design Group, Ltd. provided landscape architecture and urban design services for the Argyle Street renovation between North Broadway and North Sheridan Road – a corridor in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood known for its Vietnamese restaurants.

Additional Project Team Members: Burns and McDonnell

Silver Ribbon Award

Canal Shores Ecological Restoration Master Plan

Evanston, Illinois

Award Winner: Canal Shores Golf Club

The 82-acre, 18-hole Canal Shores Golf Course on the banks of the North Shore Channel serves as an important habitat for birds and other wildlife. The non-profit Evanston-Wilmette Golf Course Association, recognizing the value of the natural habitat and open space, has launched an effort to create an ecological restoration master plan. The aim is to produce a guide that “integrates ecological restoration and sustainable development to improve the environmental, social and economic benefits of the course for generations to come.”

Additional Project Team Members – Planning Resources, Inc., the Evanston Wilmette Golf Course Association

Green Ribbon Award

River Point

Chicago, Illinois

Award Winner: Hines and Epstein

The site was transformed into a two-level, fully accessible amenity and the office tower was set to allow space for a plaza and river walk. The building’s façade provides riverfront views. In order to enhance water quality of rain entering the river, a stormwater management system captures rain water and stores it in an underground aggregate bed of stone, recharging the groundwater. Stormwater that does not soak into the ground is released into the river at a controlled rate to prevent flooding impacts.

Precipitation is also collected in below grade cisterns and recycled as irrigation water for plantings. Trees and native plantings include grasses, perennials, and evergreen that serve as habitat for insects, birds, and other creatures that call the river home.

Additional Project Team Members:  The Office of James Burnett, Levy Family Partners, Ivanhoe Cambridge, Pickard Chilton, Kendall / Heaton Associates, Inc.                                                                                                       

Green Ribbon Award                         

Eugene Field and Gompers Park Riffle Complex

Chicago, Illinois

Award Winner: US Army Corps of Engineers and Chicago Park District

The Eugene Field Park Riffle project entailed inserting two large boulder-and-cobble riffle structures into the river. These large rock formations and riffle pools mimic rapids, add oxygen to water, allow for convenient passing of canoes and kayaks, and provide upstream access to fish. In addition to stabilizing banks upstream of the riffles, these structures also provide critical habitat for macroinvertebrates and fishes. Over time, the bed of the stream behind the riffle will accumulate sand, gravel and other materials to create aquatic habitat.

Additional Project Partner: Chicago Department of Transportation

Green Ribbon Award

Metropolitan Brewing Tap Room

Rockwell on the River

Chicago, Illinois

Award Winner: Prairie Management & Development, Inc. and Metropolitan Brewing

The design of the taproom provides a beautiful view of the Chicago River and its thriving wildlife, with large floor-to-ceiling windows that connect patrons to the environment. Located in a former tannery, the taproom is designed so that customers sit together, shoulder to shoulder, at long tables made of repurposed wood and look out over the river.

Additional Project Team Members – Rosen Architecture, Altusworks

Since 2010, Friends has recognized 32 projects within the Chicago River watershed for their river-sensitive design principles. A complete list of past winners can be found here.

Why we care

Photo: Chicago Riverwalk Framework Plan

Flowing and meandering through urban and suburban communities, forest preserves and parks, industrial and commercial districts, as well as the heart of downtown, the 156-mile long Chicago River connects millions of people to nature. It provides wildlife a place to live, considerable recreational opportunity, and an ever-increasing diversity of economic benefits derived from the waterfront.

As a result, the Chicago River is emerging as one of the best opportunities for improving quality of life for people who live and work in the greater Chicago metropolitan area. However, the pressure to develop the river’s edge in order to maximize economic opportunity also creates potential to destroy the magic the river provides.

It is critical to continue focusing on and comprehensively understanding what kinds of actions will protect the river and its health while providing public access. It is also imperative to adopt sustainable land use and development techniques and address how our water resources are managed throughout the Chicago River watershed to provide a systematic approach for growth. How water flows in, on, and through properties impacts the quality of the river. Both on-site management and water conservation matter, whether it’s along the river’s banks or from miles away.

To address these issues, Friends of the Chicago River developed Chicago River Blue, a campaign aimed at educating, encouraging, and rewarding developments that take people, wildlife, and clean water into special account. We provide guidelines and resources to our panel of planning and design experts, then hold the annual Chicago River Blue Awards ceremony to honor those whose work exemplifies the "Blue Principles for River Design".

Photo: Ping Tom Memorial Park Boathouse, a 2014 Chicago River Blue award winner.