And finally, in River City he has the chance to affect the future course of Chicago by integrating his ideas in curving mega structure half-a-mile long, sinuously following the river southward into the decayed industrial tundra of the old city of smoke and steel which is being replaced by the new city of microchips, services and social democracy.
- Allan Temko, "Bertrand Goldberg" in 15O Years of Chicago Architecture
River City was initially proposed as the culmination of Goldberg's vision of "a city-within-a city," BGA originally envisioned a high-density site of mixed-use skyscrapers 72-stories tall, with the towers uniquely linked in "triads", connected by skybridges and containing everything from schools to shopping centers. Bending to political pressure about density and unable to get the zoning variance needed to proceed, the design was modified extensively over a ten-year planning period and resulted in a "snake" like structure (River City II), described by Goldberg as unfolding the towers and laid them on their end.
The initial scheme for River City, however, with the triad towers, incorporated all the planning lessons that Goldberg had learned in the fifteen years since designing Marina City. He emphasized the need for density, in order to have sufficient population to support not only commercial activities, but also educational facilities, infrastructure (such as light rail) and entrepeneurial business development centers. While unrealized and likely overscaled, the original planning work represents a high-point in the range and variety of planning ideas for large scale urban redevelopment.
Following this, a number of varied schemes were develoed. The triad towers was the main focus of the office throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980's. By 1979, however, the office began to look at "unfolding the tower" and making a mid-rise "snake" version. A portion of that was constructed as River City II.
There was also an intermediate design, River City 1A developed c. 1984, which featured three different massings - a tower, a cone and a snake - brought inventively together. The cone was to house a vast commercial shopping center, a single tower for residences, and the snake was already built.
The original discussions for River City began as early as 1968 when Goldberg met with Harris Ward, CEO of Commonwealth Edison, to "describe a new city center...Harris wanted to help rebuild or build a new concept of a city." Harris was stricken with cancer, the project was undertaken by Tom Ayres, who hired SOM instead who designed Printers Row instead, a more conventional development. However, Goldberg maintained a relationship with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad (CSX) who owned the railroad land along the river, and designed River City independently of Printers Row. Goldberg acted as designer, promoter and developer for the River City project, until in the later years, when River City II was underway, he was joined by Dan Epstein as a fellow developer.