In 2004, Chicago watched historic Soldier Field become a toilet bowl. In 2019, Union Station will become a self-inked address stamper. During a public meeting on June 25, Chicago-based architects Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB) unveiled plans to construct a seven-story glass addition to the 1925 Graham, Anderson, Probst & White train station in the West Loop. Along with Riverside Investment & Development and Convexity Properties, SCB outlined the details of the proposal, including a hotel, apartments, an office complex, and retail. If implemented, Union Station would rise in height from 150 to 245 feet, with the proposed glass rectangle atop the existing office tour delivering 404 apartments. The multi-story main building, or headhouse, would become 330 hotel rooms.
Along with landmarks review, the redevelopment will need both aldermanic and zoning approval before moving forward with what will be the first phase of changes for Union Station. A second phase will add an office skyscraper south of the headhouse, while a third phase will build an apartment tower over an existing train platform nearby. With Union Station in the middle of a $22 million skylight restoration, the plan released on June 25 deviates dramatically from the one outlined in the station’s 2012 master plan, calling for two new twelve story residential towers above the headhouse. Other aspects of the master plan have already been implemented, including the restoration of the grand staircase and the Burlington Room.
Listed as a Chicago Landmark in 2002, the new plans for Union Station will also require a review by The Commission on Chicago Landmarks (CCL) before a permit is provided. While Riverside Investment & Development and Convexity Properties, along with SCB, have been careful in their attempt to show that the addition will do no harm to the components of the building that make it architecturally significant, the addition reads as out of scale and context for the existing building. With the CCL charged to examine the appropriateness of proposed work on Chicago Landmarks in relation to the spirit of the Landmarks Ordinance, the plan as presented should be considered by the CCL as an adverse effect on a designated local landmark.
If approved, the addition on Union Station could cause a paradigm shift in the way Chicago Landmarks are approached by potential developers, broadcasting a message that cultural and architectural resources are only of value if they are monetized to their fullest extent, and that the Landmarks Ordinance can soften in the face of economic motivators. The proposed addition is not only an imbalance in terms of design, it’s also condescending to the station itself, the architectural equivalent of a head patting, or worse. Ringing out like the 2004 renovation of Soldier Field (a project that curiously won an award for design excellence by the AIA the same year it was recommended to be stripped of its National Historic Landmark designation), this is new bullying old.