Tender House Project Imagines the potential future of Chicago’s iconic yet overlooked bridgehouses, proposing that these hidden civic structures are cultural assets that will breathe new life into the Chicago River and its banks.
Throughout the branches of Chicago’s river system, declining boat traffic has meant that many movable bridges have been decommissioned or are inactive for most of the year. In the past, each bridgehouse functioned to operate its respective side of the bridge, but most of these controls have now been centralized into one house. The massive gears and counterweights that lifted the bridges for large boats to pass are used only a few dozen times a year, and bridge tenders no longer need to continuously occupy these structures. Today, over 50% of Chicago’s bridgehouses are vacant and in some cases the structures are deteriorating.
At a moment when there is growing interest in developing the Chicago River, proposing alternate uses for vacant bridgehouses provides a pathway to the preservation of these endangered civic structures and offers the public new points of access to the river.
Taking inspiration from the significant restoration and use of the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum, Tender House Project aims to cultivate interest and ideas in the cultural potential these bridgehouses carry. These unique structures offer opportunities for a diversity of small-scale neighborhood based programming and the opportunity to bridge communities by creating a network of cultural destinations along the river. Proposed programs may include storytelling, artistic works, ecological education and community led activities, providing a window to the river’s past while considering the great potential for its future.
Tender House Project is curated by Mejay Gula, Chicago architect and educator specializing in design, construction, and community engagement strategies that inspire new possibilities for vacant and forgotten buildings in the city. The exhibition is presented in conjunction with Friends of the Chicago River’s annual event, Chicago River Day, on May 12, 2018 and runs through May 26th at the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum.