Spire site plan from SOM, Related Midwest refreshing – Consumer News

on May16

16 May 2018 | 10:00 am

When Brendan Reilly was elected to the City Council in 2007, he inherited the ill-fated Santiago Calatrava-designed Chicago Spire as a major project under his purview. At a community meeting during the period, lame-duck Ald. Burt Natarus hailed the extravagant 2,000-foot-tall structure as necessary for Chicago, saying that if we failed to build it, we’d be inferior to Milwaukee (which has a museum designed by the Spanish architect).

But much has changed in the past decade. The Great Recession killed the Spire; the project stalled in 2008 and was put to rest in 2014 when developer Related Midwest took over the site. Last night Reilly seemed quite relieved. In opening the community meeting unveiling the new plan for what’s now dubbed 400 Lake Shore Drive, he practically spit out the words “Spire site”—as if exorcising the demons that befell his predecessor’s overly ambitious pet project.

The new plan calls for two similar but not identical six-sided towers that step back as they rise. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) Consulting Design Partner David Childs, they’re the result of a longstanding relationship between New York-based Related and the New York-based architect, who’s working with the firm’s Chicago office developing the design.

More: Take a look at the billion-dollar plan for the Spire site

Related Midwest President Curt Bailey explains his charge to Childs: “Do something special.” The result is a four-story, 90-feet-tall podium, clad in stone and glass, that will fill much of the site and create a forecourt to terminate Water Street. Waterfront pedestrian access will be provided on the north along Ogden Slip and on the south along the Chicago River to link to the long-awaited realization of DuSable Park, which was promised as part of Calatrava’s site development.

An 1,100-foot-tall tower with 300 luxury condominiums atop a 175-room boutique hotel would occupy the south side of the site, with an 850-foot-tall luxury rental apartment building to the north. Each tower would be six-sided to accentuate its slender appearance, and step back asymmetrically, with open terraces on many floors.

“The grid is the great open space of any city,” Childs told Crain’s. “It’s very important to link to that.”

While the geometry of the six-sided towers seems complex, it’s deceptively simple. The base aligns to Chicago’s predominant grid, as do the tower faces at the north and south extremities of the site. “But the spaces in between are off, because they twist slightly off of the north-south alignment,” Childs says.

Both predominantly glass towers are clad in terra cotta—a masonry material popular in the early days of Chicago architecture (such classics as the Reliance Building—now the Alise Chicago hotel—and the Wrigley Building owe their forms to it).

“Terra cotta is actually a very modern material,” Childs explains. Unlike stone, which is expensive to carve in anything other than flat pieces, a terra cotta extrusion can be economically shaped with some freedom.

While the current renderings show a solution that’s almost classical in its profile, Childs notes that it’s not the final design. “We’re excited about a shape that has something of water to it,” he says. “It could be more playful.” The glass between the terra cotta piers will be configured as bay windows—another allusion to an earlier era in Chicago’s architectural history.

By the numbers, 400 Lake Shore Drive is a less ambitious than the Chicago Spire, with a decrease from 2.3 million square feet to 1.3 million, a height of 1,100 feet versus 2,000, and total units declining from 1,200 to 1,025 (850 residential plus 175 hotel rooms). And while the architecture will be striking, it won’t be as flamboyant.

It may seem like I’m damning it with faint praise, but I’m not. The 400 Lake Shore Drive proposal is a fine pair of buildings, which will fit in nicely on a prime Chicago site. We’ve become so used to fairly awful residential buildings in Chicago that it’s refreshing to see a project that’s just trying to be really good—and succeeding. It’s not the next Hancock Center, or Sears Tower, nor should it be.

Enough details remain to be worked out that it would be premature to start celebrating—but let’s hope this capable team of developers and architects can work things out with the alderman and community to make this the good addition to Chicago’s cityscape that it deserves to be.

Edward Keegan is a Chicago architect who practices, writes, broadcasts, and teaches on architectural subjects.



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