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BY ZACH MORTICE

The Morton Salt site will feature a riparian ecosystem grown in a synthetic medium. Image courtesy Lamar Johnson Collaborative.

In Chicago, a synthetic growing medium will provide a healthy buffer between contaminated soils and riparian plant life.

 

For nearly 100 years, the Morton Salt facility on the North Side of Chicago, with its massive rain slicker and umbrella sign, has been an iconic presence along the industrial corridor that traced the North Branch of the Chicago River. The warehousing and packaging facility closed in 2015, and within a few years, the company announced an ambitious adaptive reuse plan for the site, turning it into a mixed-use campus featuring a concert venue and office spaces. (The sign will stay.) It will also be home to Morton’s R&D facility, relocating from Chicago’s suburbs, where the company will research water softener salt, pool salt, deicing salt, and salt solutions for other industrial applications.

The project’s innovation will extend to the outdoors: The landscape of the campus will include a synthetic growing medium developed by Omni Ecosystems. According to the company, it’s the first site in Chicago that’s been approved for the use of special stormwater soils designed to mitigate runoff and stormwater from combined sewer overflows. Working with the Chicago Plan Commission and the Department of Buildings, Omni Ecosystems will use 60,000 cubic feet of Omni Infinity Media, largely composed of an ultra-light, kiln-dried mineral similar to volcanic rock. This medium will allow a rich wetland and riparian ecosystem to thrive on top of a degraded and polluted site that’s been capped with concrete and asphalt.

The Omni Infinity Media is mostly air—it has 78 percent void space, compared to standard topsoil, which has 25 percent. “It’s quite literally and physically a sponge,” says Michael Skowlund, ASLA, the director of landscape architecture at Omni Ecosystems. (more…)

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