Happy October! EGD Northshore correspondent Caren Jeskey and I are very different people, luckily for her. But we do keep discovering similarities in outlook, such as our sharing the Big Love for architect Jeanne Gang. When the University of Chicago Press asked me to write my upcoming book, a daily history of Chicago, my very first thought was: "I've got to get Jeanne Gang in there." And I did.
Although today's post underscores a difference: just because I need a vacation doesn't mean our indefatigable Saturday essayist needs one too. Caren isn't about to neglect her duties just because the cat's away. So I'm pleased to pause my "Dozen Destinations" space filler to share her Saturday report. Another snippet of my 2009 travelogue returns Sunday.
By Caren Jeskey
Chicago continues to surprise and amaze me. A friend called to say she could not make it to my September birthday dinner, so she suggested a local kayak trip instead. We met at the WMS Boathouse last Saturday morning, which Jeanne Gang designed. As a Gang fan, I was delighted. The structure was completed back in 2013, yet it had not been on my radar. LEED score for the sustainability factor of the building.
In Gang’s words, “Ecologically, the overall goal of a healthy river led the design team to focus on diverting stormwater from the city’s combined sewer system, one of the largest impediments to improved water quality. The boathouse’s roof drainage elements and site design together function as its stormwater management system, diverting 100 percent of runoff from the sewer. Green infrastructure—porous concrete and asphalt, native plantings, gravel beds, and bioswales (rain gardens)—is used to store and filter runoff before slowly releasing this filtered water back into the river. Existing habitats were maintained and strengthened with a mix of native grass, plants, and trees, and silt fabric prevented compaction and erosion during construction. These efforts serve as a model for softening the river’s edge, supporting its ongoing revitalization. With structural truss shapes alternating between an inverted 'V' and an 'M,' the roof achieves a rhythmic modulation that lets in southern light through the building’s upper clerestory. In summer, the clerestory lets in fresh air, while in winter, it allows sunlight to warm the floor slab, minimizing energy use throughout the year."
Then it was time to get into the water ourselves. Boat stewards fitted us with life jackets and expertly placed our single person kayaks into the river. They gave us step by step guidance on how to get in and out of the boats. The last time I dismounted a kayak was back in Austin, which ended in an unplanned lake dip. Thankfully, I managed to avoid a dunk this time.
We set off northbound from the dock between Belmont and Addison at a leisurely pace. Regal herons perched on concrete slabs and tree branches. One took flight right over us, showing us its 6’ wingspan and graceful ability to soar. It was a cloudy day, so turtles were not sunbathing along the shore, but a few peeked their heads out of the water to check us out as we floated along.
Folks who are interested can take part in planning river development on October 1 and 6 for the South Branch and Bubbly Creek areas.
After our relaxing water jaunt, we took a short walk past The Garden bike park. We watched cyclists young and old landscaping dirt mounds, and doing twisty turny things in the air from atop their bikes. We headed south and saw a father and son who’d set up a Pickleball net in an empty parking lot, which reminded us that we’ve been talking about visiting the court at the new Architectural Artifacts location. We followed the path to Belmont Avenue and found a sweet view of the city.
When it was time to leave this burgeoning nature oasis in the city, we headed to Avondale Coffee Club with our laptops to get some work done. Turns out, the pair of friends who founded the shop were there to regale us with stories about their establishment. Jacqueline and Adam let us know that everyone who works there functions as equals, like a well-oiled family. They bought their first 150 pound bag of beans from a farmer in Guatemala via an Instagram post about seven years ago, and the rest is history. They source most of their coffee beans through Golden Mountain Coffee Growers whose mission is to "fight poverty through quality coffee." Jacqueline roasts the coffee at Reprise Roasters in Libertyville. She won a Gold Medal for her "Double Anaerobic Fermentation Category 3: Filter" last month at Golden Bean, the "world's largest coffee roasting competition," and is heading to the Word Championship in Hawaii later this year.
We also met Kati, their business partner and Adam's life partner, as well as teammates Brian and Zach. They are celebrating three years at their Evanston location today and this evening, where they are offering a rare 20 percent discount on their beans from 5-8pm.
Damn you, mortality. I wonder how many amazing finds Jeanne Gang, the gang at Reprise, and other talented locals have in store for us? If only we could live forever and find out.