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05.09.2014
Park Life
Residential tower in Chicago looks to a new West Loop.
Courtesy smdp

Chicago firm smdp has big plans for the West Loop. With developer Fifield Companies, it has plotted out a master plan that includes 10 million square feet of office space for a burgeoning tech sector over the next ten years, and a park that would cap the Kennedy Expressway—a Millennium Park for the West Loop, according to firm principal Scott Sarver.

The latest piece of that puzzle to fall into place is a 31-story office tower at 725 West Randolph Street. Located next to the expressway—what Sarver hopes will one day be park side real estate—the residential high-rise could serve as a gateway to the rapidly developing Fulton Market District.

 
smdp's design includes a continuous balcony with glass handrails, obscuring the boundary between apartment and skyline.
 

It also features an automated parking system that would be the first of its kind in Chicago. “I think it’s going to be kind of revolutionary,” said Sarver of the parking system, which is unstaffed and relies on robotic pallets to store cars efficiently. A driver would pull onto a 20-square-foot turntable, leave their vehicle, and call it back using a cell phone when ready to leave. The system also makes parking more cost-effective from an architectural standpoint.

“The thing about parking usually is it never pays for itself,” said Sarver. Since cars can be stacked and stashed away in levels with smaller floor-to-ceiling heights than code would require for occupied floors, the system eliminates the need for a bulky podium. “It makes smaller sites a lot more palatable,” said Sarver, referring to a slew of small sites in River North and other Chicago neighborhoods where development pressure is high but square footage often is not.

   
 

On top of seven or eight stories containing 260 cars, 220 residential units enjoy views of downtown and the West Loop with ample outdoor space. The typical unit is between 500 and 600 square feet, including a courtyard that lets light and air into a bedroom and living space that features floor-to-ceiling glass. As the building rises, its floorplate twists six inches with each level, lending the form a subtle sense of movement.

A continuous balcony wraps around the building, with glass separators between units and a fritted glass banister. The balconies provide shading that helps shield the living areas from unwanted views of the highway. “It was sort of an idea about living in the city,” said Sarver. “You’re kind of seamless inside to outside. There’s an ownership of the skyline.”

The project is still lining up financing, but Sarver said the team expects to break ground this year.

Chris Bentley