Chicagoans traveling through the South Loop will soon be able to encounter a new design element that reflects an essential facet of Chicago’s Chinatown.
The Wells-Wentworth Connector, slated for completion this Fall, is a new transit connector between the Loop and Chinatown, designed to ease traffic congestion while providing safe, modern, protected pathways for pedestrians and bikers in the South Loop. The connector will help pedestrians access Ping Tom Memorial Park, ensure biker through-flow with protected lanes, and increase walkability across The 78. Now, retaining walls along the Wells Street Bridge feature a bas relief pattern resembling dragon scales.
The lead landscape designer for The 78 riverfront is Site Design Group, who worked hand in hand with Related and the Chicago Department of Transportation on the Wells-Wentworth Connector. Related has previously collaborated with Site Design Group on projects ranging from luxury high-rise green roofs and landscape design to affordable housing developments and public green spaces. In approaching the design of the retaining walls, Site Design Group Principal Ernest C. Wong drew on decades of experience on projects in Chicago and beyond such as the Dan Ryan Expressway and Jane Byrne Interchange, as well his Chinese-American heritage.
“We looked at the retaining wall surfaces and saw an opportunity to symbolize the connection between Downtown and Chinatown,” Wong said. “Of the 12 zodiac creatures in the Asian Lunar calendar, the dragon is the most powerful. On the walls, the scales change with the shadows based on the time of day and the undulation of the scale pattern adds an organic movement on an otherwise hard and static surface and as one enters the bridge tunnel, providing a sense of safety and strength.”
The Wells-Wentworth Connector is just one of several major infrastructure improvements Related Midwest will be making in conjunction with the city in and around The 78, including a new CTA Red Line station, relocation of the Metra tracks to fully activate Clark Street, and reconstruction of the Chicago River seawall.
“The power of the city runs through The 78 and culminates in Chinatown via this bridge,” Wong said. “This design is very auspicious.”