Last night, June 13th, Wolf Point West, a 48-story residential tower located along the Chicago River’s edge, won a Blue Ribbon ‘Silver’ Award for Excellence in River-Sensitive Design from the Friends of the Chicago River at their 12th Annual Big Fish Ball. For Wolf Point West, Epstein was the civil engineer working with a multi-disciplined team of architects and engineers led by owner/developer BIT Wolf Point West Investors LLC.
In addition to Epstein and BIT Wolf Point West Investors LLC, the project team also included design architect, BKL Architecture LLC; landscape architect Wolf Landscaping; structural engineer Halvorson and Partners; and general contractor McHugh/Clark.
The Big Fish Ball was held at the Westin Chicago River North and the Epsteiners in attendance, who included Greg Osborne, Linda Kanoski, Gail Pollard, David Hilty and Noel Abbott, along with their spouses, enjoyed the evening which featured the opportunity to meet and touch some of the wildlife that calls the Chicago River its home.
For those of you not familiar with Wolf Point West or the site’s historical significance – here is a narrative drafted by David Hilty, PE, who was our lead civil engineer on this complicated site development project:
A Soft Connection to the River
The Wolf Point site, located at the confluence of the North, South, and Main branches of the Chicago River, is one of the most historically significant pieces of land in Chicago. It was the location of many of its first buildings including a tavern, hotel, drug store, as well as the first ferry and bridges across the Chicago River. In the early 1800’s Wolf Point was home to Chicago’s early settlers and Native Americans who lived side by side. With the dawn of the Industrial Age and the reversal of the flow of the river, the Wolf Point site and its natural river bank was replaced with boat docks and a lumber yard. In the mid-1940’s, the current Owner purchased the property and eventually sought to develop the land. Over the years various buildings were constructed, including a recent parking garage and parking lot. In 2012, a plan was established to develop three high-rise buildings on the site, the first being Wolf Point West, which was completed in 2016.
The Wolf Point West tower was carefully positioned near the river’s edge and its footprint minimized, maximizing open green space. Full public access to the water from Orleans Street to the east, and Wolf Point Plaza and Kinzie Street to the north includes ample landscaping, seating areas, and a 400-foot long river walk promenade that provides spectacular views of the skyline and water along the entire length of the river frontage. The river walk is illuminated so that the public can not only utilize the space during the day, but can also enjoy a safe walk in the evening. The building’s façade intentionally opens up to the river allowing for riverfront views from the building’s amenities and walkways. Benches have been provided within the open space and along the river walk. To encourage passive recreation, ample seating has been created that includes a grass amphitheater area that overlooks this historic confluence of the three branches of the Chicago River. Looking at the site from the river, boaters and kayakers are treated to a green shoreline as well as a view of trees, grass and plantings along the river walk and the slope leading up to the plaza level.
The initial concept for the river walk included standard sheet pile construction with fill in the river. However, after looking at the potential impacts to the river’s flood plain and shoreline, Epstein proposed a cantilevered river walk solution to not only avoid filling in the flood plain, but also to preserve and enhance the vegetated river bank that has all but disappeared from the majority of Chicago’s downtown river front properties. The concept was quickly embraced by the entire design team.
The existing riverbank was the last remaining “natural bank” along the Chicago River in downtown Chicago, and there was interest by BIT Wolf Point West Investors and the entire design team in maintaining that condition. Epstein, along with bKL Architecture, Halvorson and Partners and Wolf Landscaping each carefully and thoughtfully implemented their piece of the solution to create a sensible connectivity between the development and the river’s edge.
In order to prevent erosion and enhance water quality, the river bank was stabilized with rip rap. The riverbank was planted with a combination of native and other hardy shrubs and perennials in order to soften the bank which will, as they grow, drape down over and partially cover the stone rip rap. Two years after installation the shrubs and perennials are growing and starting to provide the aesthetic benefits and wildlife habitat which were the original project objectives. The rip rap and plantings have eliminated soil erosion and helped to improve water quality through reduction of siltation. The cantilever of the river walk was set at an elevation above the flood plain, avoiding encroachment into the federally designated Waters of the Unites States. Trees were planted along the river walk to provide shade and reduce the heat island effect.
The Wolf Point West tower also contributed to the well-being of the river through its green roof that retains storm water runoff. Runoff from the building and a portion of the plaza is detained within the building and released into the river at a controlled rate so that the site does its part to minimize flooding during a large rain event. The river walk includes infiltration beds below the surface that serve to detain and clean storm water. The infiltration beds, combined with a hydrodynamic separator, remove suspended solids and trash from storm water prior to it entering the river. Within the property’s plaza area, landscaping beds containing trees, shrubs and ground cover have been provided along the walkway to create a park-like feel for not only the residents but also for the general public who are free to access the river walk from the upper-level pedestrian system. The landscaping also serves to retain storm water and minimize runoff to the river.
Wolf Point West was recently certified LEED BD+C: New Construction v3 - LEED 2009 and has done its very best in restoring and revitalizing the riverfront in a way that is not only considerate of the aquatic ecosystem, but also welcoming to the public as a unique, thoughtful, and soft interface between City’s ever changing skyline and the perennial waters of the Chicago River.
Lastly, special congratulations go out to Dave for his award-winning engineering work on Wolf Point West. Awesome job!