rograms for both youth and adult rowing teams, clubs, and organizations, providing space for team practice, fitness, and courses for people with disabilities. After-school mentoring programs and neighborhood gatherings also take place in these spaces. The boat storage buildings house rental kayaks and canoes as well as the rowing teams’ eight-person shells; their structural systems are coordinated to support boat racks and oar storage. Large outdoor aprons and docks allow for maneuvering onto the river and embrace each site’s distinct river condition.
The boathouses’ distinctive clerestory roofs were derived from Eadweard Muybridge’s stop-motion photographs of rowing, with the high and low positions of the oar translated into alternating structural steel truss shapes—an inverted “V” and “M”—that filter light into the buildings and delineate a dynamic, rhythmic modulation. The secondary structures between the truss types are composed entirely of straight elements that altogether form a warped surface described by bendable plywood panels.
The boathouses are designed to reduce energy use through a combination of passive strategies and efficient systems. Winter sun through the clerestories warms the floor slabs, reducing heating demand. In summer, the clerestories provide natural ventilation, eliminating the need for mechanical cooling.
The structures are clad in zinc and slate panels—durable and low-maintenance in Chicago’s cold-winter, hot-summer climate cycle—that can also be easily repaired and replaced. These material choices, along with Douglas fir plywood, enable an elegant, distinctive, and economical design. Yet a major challenge of the project was expanding the Chicago Park District’s standard and desired palette of cost-effective, durable materials such as brick or CMU that they have used for other public buildings and projects. The design team worked with the Park District to expand this palette by demonstrating slate and zinc’s high durability and low-maintenance—for instance, slate has a natural low moisture-absorption rate and resistance to freeze-thaw cycles and can be detailed for easy replacement. These assets combined with the materials’ ability to accommodate the saw-toothed roof form proved the material was a viable solution for the client and the design.
The overall goal of a healthy river led the design team to focus on diverting storm water from the city’s combined sewer system, one of the largest impediments to water quality in the Chicago River. The boathouses’ roof drainage and site design together function as their storm-water management systems, diverting 100% of runoff from the sewer. This solution effectively minimizes the release of contaminants and effluents into the river when maximum capacity has been reached. The boathouses also utilize green infrastructure—porous concrete and asphalt, native plantings, gravel beds, and bioswales (rain gardens)—to store and filter runoff before slowly releasing this newly clean water back into the river. Additionally, existing habitats on both sites were maintained and strengthened with a mix of grass, native plants, and trees, and silt fabric prevented compaction and erosion during construction.
The boathouses were funded in part by grants from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the City of Chicago, and private donations through a public-private partnership model.
ClientChicago Park District
Gross Floor Area (mq)1765
Design teamJeanne Gang, Mark Schendel, William Emmick, and Todd Zima, with Weiju Lai, Christopher Vant Hoff, Jay Hoffman, Angela Peckham, John Castro, Michan Walker, and Juan de la Mora
ConsultantsdbHMS, MEP/FP; Faithful+Gould, cost estimating; Matrix Engineering Corporation, structural engineering; SPACECO, Inc., civil engineering; Terry Guen Design Associates, landscape architect; WMA Consulting Engineers, sustainability consultant
SuppliersRheinzink, Reynobond, Hunter, Carlisle, Tubelite, Guardian, Extech, Wayne Dalton, Corbin Russwin, Owen Corning, Sherwin Williams, Dal-Tile Corporation, Capri Cork, Versteel, Andreu World, Blue Dot, Holler Design, Source, Maharam, Bega, Xal, Axis, Luminii, Philips Hadco, Voigt Lighting, Pinnacle Lighting, Focus, Ozinga, Bola
Photo CreditsSteve Hall (c) Hedrich Blessing
Curriculum studio / partecipanteFounded by Jeanne Gang in 1997, Studio Gang is an architecture and urban design practice in Chicago and New York. The Studio works across types and scales of projects—from cultural and public buildings, to urban parks, to high-rise towers—to create places that connect people with each other and their environment. A sustainability ethos is central to the practice, coupled with a methodology defined by research, experimentation, and interdisciplinary collaboration. This approach has enabled the Studio to produce innovative architecture recognized for a strong connection to its specific place and purpose, including such award-winning projects as the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College; Writers Theatre on Chicago’s North Side; and two public boathouses on the Chicago River. The Studio is currently working on major projects throughout the Americas and Europe.