“I wanted it to blend with the landscape, and to restore and echo the winding paths along the lakefront that had been straightened over time. Olmsted was instrumental in inspiring the preservation of Chicago’s lakefront, recognizing its profound aesthetic importance, and in keeping it open to the public, free from industrial activity.” John Clark.
The City of Chicago, through an international design competition called “Bridging the Drive,” has constructed a new signature pedestrian bridge at 41st Street, over Lake Shore Drive. The project’s primary goals were to connect the Bronzeville neighbourhood west of the bridge the lakefront to the east with an iconic structure that provides a dynamic, welcoming, and memorable experience for its users. Before, Lakeshore Drive and the train created an enormous barrier.
From 1868 through 1870, Olmsted and his partner, the architect Calvert Vaux, designed a 1,600-acre planned community west of Chicago called Riverside; one of his key concepts was a system of curvilinear streets. He wrote, “As the ordinary directness-of-line in town streets, with its resultant regularity of plan would suggest eagerness to press forward, without looking to the right hand or the left, we should recommend the general adoption, in the design of your roads, of gracefully-curved lines,generous spaces, and the absence of sharpcorners, the idea being to suggest and imply leisure, contemplativeness and happy tranquility.”
Olmsted used the concept of perspective at multiple scales in order to draw one’s eye into the landscape and create an emotional response within the viewer.
When he planned Chicago’s parks, he brought this same thinking. Over time though, many lakefront walkways had been straightened. Where the bridge lands on the lakefront, Cordogan Clark chose to curve the adjacent walks and also to curve the bridge and the ramps to the west. For the 41st Street Bridge is a landscape element, designed for enjoyment as well as crossing the tracks and Lake Shore Drive, and its goal is to make the trip enjoyable. So it curves.

By John Clark

(Bridge credits: Cordogan Clark bridge design architects; AECOM structural and civil engineers; Chicago Department of Transportation CDOT, client)

With its twin inclined arches on reverse curves, the 41st Street Pedestrian Bridge structure is unique in the world. The 457.2-meter long bridge creates a large, graceful S-curve that echoes the park’s Olmsted walkways to extend the lakefront parkway west. It curves horizontally and vertically to create an exciting urban promenade. Its slender, minimal detailing provides excellent views to and from all points: It also allows surveillance and designs out hidden areas. Its height and length provide a rise sufficient to clear the commuter train and Lake Shore Drive, yet also allow a slope that is gentle enough for wheelchair use.
“For far too long, residents of this community could see the lakefront, but they couldn’t easily reach it,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel at its opening. “This new bridge connects Bronzeville residents to our lakefront and the new 41st street beach….”
The pedestrian bridge is constructed to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, people with disabilities, and emergency vehicles. To be fully accessible and usable, the bridge has both ramps and stairs at both ends. Its design minimizes its footprint within the adjacent parks while integrating accessibility to the bridge. It replaces an outmoded, deteriorated, non-ADA accessible pedestrian bridge.
Users are gently guided to spectacular city views in all directions. The bridge projects outwards to create grand balconies at midspan. It glides gently to rest at each end of its span, with ramps supported on a rusticated concrete base that tapers into the landscape to help the bridge blend with and extend the park environment. Its west ramp hugs the east boundary of a park, creating a sculptural backdrop and low wall between the park and the train.
The bridge brings “more people into the community. There are so many people who thought this community never existed,” said long-time area activist Shirley Newsome, who lives a block from the 41st Street span.
“It’s easy to just come outside and walk right across,” said Destiny Brown, 23, who lives in an eight-story building near the bridge.
The architectural critic Blair Kamin, writing in the Chicago Tribune, calls the journey across the bridge a and adds that a bridge can be much more than to get from point A to point B, inviting “shifts in the fate of neighborhoods, in our patterns of movement, and even perhaps in our region’s longstanding divisions of race and class.”
With its lean, muscular, dynamic form, the 41st Street Bridge is in keeping with Chicago’s tradition of structural expressiveness and has won numerous awards: Form, function, and structure are one.