Apartments in Disguise

Rafael Vinoly Architects

There is no public space in Chicago more recognizable than the stretch of parks, museums, and lakefront along Michigan Avenue east of the downtown Loop. Walled in on the north and west by skyscrapers dating mostly from the 1880s–1970s and by the lake to the east, the space is an expression of the rigidity and possibility of the city’s relentless grid. It was only a matter of time before the wall of buildings would be completed to the south of the parks, where some of the last undeveloped space was available. With the approval of a new 829-foot-tall, 76-story tower by New York City’s Rafael Viñoly Architects (RVA), the long-stalled development along Indiana Avenue is finally going to be realized in what will be one of the most visible changes to the city’s skyline in years.

“This development bears a tremendous responsibility to provide a visual anchor at the south end of Grant Park, bookending the park with the Aon Center.” Rafael Viñoly commented in a press release. Unlike the 83-story Edward Durell Stone–designed Aon Center, the Viñoly project, known as 1200 South Indiana, will be a residential tower, adding to the South Loop neighborhood’s growing housing market. Despite this programmatic difference, Viñoly was conscious of the city’s pedigree of modern office towers, and the form of the new project is a direct homage to some of Chicago’s modernist icons. With step-backs reminiscent of the Bruce Graham–designed Willis Tower, as well as expressed structural lines referencing Graham’s John Hancock Tower, the project will no doubt evoke a legacy with which Chicagoans are familiar. Viñoly is also conscious of the grain of the building’s envelope, opting for larger material units—a feature that will give the building a bold monolithic appearance, rather than the varied surface of a typical balconied residential tower. It is here, though, that the similarities to the commercial typology end and the tower’s program takes over.

With 792 rental units ranging from studios to three bedroom apartments, the project is packed with all of the amenities expected in luxury apartments, including indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center, retail space, and more amenities awaiting announcement. The 36- by 36-foot rooftops produced by the setbacks are used as private terraces, while 30-foot-wide balconies for other units are recessed within the facade of the building. A large community space is situated on the 17th floor roof of the building’s plinth, which includes the outdoor pool.

Perhaps the least apparent, but the most striking, difference from its modernist forbearers is that the tower will be concrete construction rather than steel. This is in line with most residential towers that have been built recently in Chicago, including Pappageorge Haymes Partners’ pair of towers at One Museum Park immediately to the east of the project. Like those towers, 1200 South Indiana is part of the larger Central Station planned development, which has shaped the 80 acres south of the parks for the past 25 years. When completed, the tower will be the tallest in the development—surpassing the 62 stories of One Museum Park. Also similar to the One Museum Park projects, 1200 South Indiana is just one of a planned three-phase project. The second and third phases include adding another 648-unit tower directly to the east and a lower 100-unit development and park to an adjacent site, anchoring the Grant Park with sibling towers.

Understanding the project’s position in the city, its aspirations are nothing short of grand. “It is a special residential building that has a relationship to these other big buildings that have an impressive scale.” Chan-li Lin, partner at RVA explained to AN. “What we are trying to do is be part of the family of the iconic buildings in Chicago without looking like just another residential building.”

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