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The redevelopment of the Chicago Union Station has been a long time coming. The 1925 Beaux Arts station has seen minor repairs in the past few years, but a recently released master plan envisions a complete redevelopment of the historic building and the surrounding area.
Led by Riverside Investment & Development Co., the Goettsch Partners–designed master plan will take the form of 3.1 million square feet of new commercial, retail, and residential space. Divided into three phases, work will begin in the historic headhouse and continue to neighboring properties, owned by Amtrak, above the below-grade railroad tracks. When complete, five new towers will rise above and around the station.
“This building was envisioned by Daniel Burnham in the 1909 Plan for Chicago as the city’s primary rail station,” said Amtrak President and CEO Charles W. “Wick” Moorman IV to the press at the announcement of the master plan. “It is in that spirit, that we have big plans for both this headhouse building and nearby properties owned by Amtrak.”
The headhouse, originally designed by Burnham and completed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White after his death, is considered a Beaux Arts masterpiece. With its 110-foot-tall skylit great hall, the headhouse has often been used as the backdrop of films, most notably in the climax of the 1987 movie The Untouchables. The new master plan calls for a dramatic addition to the headhouse: Initial designs call for two 12-story residential towers to be added to the top of the building. The existing top portion, which is currently office space, will also be redeveloped. While adding towers to the top of the historic structure may seem drastic, it should be noted that the original design called for a commercial skyscraper to sit atop the building. This technique of matching civic spaces with office high-rises was once popular in Chicago, most famously in the cases of the Auditorium Theatre and the Lyric Opera House.
The rest of the development will follow another once-common building practice associated with Union Station. Immediately to the south of the headhouse, three new towers will take advantage of air rights over a set of 14 tracks that run into the station. The Chicago Daily News building and the Chicago Main Post Office, two of Chicago’s most recognizable art deco icons, were built in the same way, straddling the tracks to the north and south of the station.
Along with the towers, the master plan calls for improvements to the passenger experience as well. Despite serving over 50,000 guests a day, the station, which is mostly underground, is outdated and generally unpleasant. Street-level retail, historic restoration, and a new food hall will all be addressed in the redevelopment. A hotel has been proposed for above the headhouse, and publicly accessible terraces and plazas are also included in the master plan.
Considering Chicago Union Station is the only major train station in Chicago, and the third busiest in the country, its surroundings have seen surprisingly little development over the years. The most recent addition to the area is a $40 million bus transit center designed by Chicago-based Muller+Muller. Ironically, that station will have to be demolished and rebuilt to be integrated into the proposed master plan. But, since no hard dates have been set to implement the new plan as it negotiates the financial side of the project, the transit station is safe for now.
While every major development in Chicago brings with it scores of critics and champions, this one has the potential to spark particularly lively discussions. If the architecture of the project at all resembles the renderings of the master plan, many Chicagoans will have something to say about putting two glass towers on top of their much-loved Beaux Arts landmark.
Dubbed the Global Hub, Northwestern University’s latest addition to its Evanston campus is a grand new home to the Kellogg School of Management. The recently opened five-story building sits immediately along the shore of Lake Michigan on land reclaimed by the university decades ago. Defined by four large wings, which produce a plan that resembles the letter K, the curving form of the building makes no small reference to the waves on the water it overlooks.
“The first inspiration was the action of the water and the waves, and how they round off materials and forms to make them smooth,” explained Bruce Kuwabara, partner at Toronto-based firm KPMB, which designed the new building. “It was beautiful, the power of Lake Michigan and nature.”
The project is composed of a series of vastly different-sized spaces, accumulating to a whopping 415,000 square feet. The building is the new home to full-time business students, faculty, and administration offices. Collaboration areas throughout can accommodate from two to twenty individuals, and larger gathering spaces can handle from 200 to 2,000.
The largest space in the complex is the massive multistory center atrium, where all four wings connect. The structure’s exterior curves continue into this space in the form of flowing balconies and staircases. Two of the large wooden staircases at the heart of the building double as seating for formal and informal events. Another atrium on the upper levels acts a second major space. Both allow for copious amounts of natural light.
The building’s high-tech envelope not only allows in all of that light, but also contributes to the project’s goal of achieving LEED Gold certification. Throughout, double and triple glazing provide daylight and energy efficiency, while automated shading controls glare and solar gain. A series of undulating fritted glass fins adds an additional layer of shading. On the interior, borrowed light is distributed through glassed office partitions. Perhaps even more than daylighting and energy efficiency, the glass facade provides something the building takes ample advantage of: unmatched views of the lake and the downtown, 15 miles to the south.
Called the “Global Hub,” it is part of the University’s larger building program that includes the 2015 Goettsch Partners–designed Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts. Both new additions to the campus run counter to its existing catalogue of Brutalist and gothic-revival structures.
The stark contrast between old and new on Northwestern’s campus is the school’s physical manifestation of its vision for the future of education. And Northwestern is not alone—dark wood–lined halls and oak tree–filled quads are being replaced by brighter, more transparent and generous collaboration spaces at many traditional campuses. It is only a matter of time before the image of the elite campus is less about spires and more about sunlight.
A newly remodeled 1920s building adds to Chicago’s growing list of boutique tower hotels
Apparently, Chicago has an insatiable hunger for boutique hotels in vintage Chicago skyscrapers. In 2015, the newly renovated downtown Chicago Athletic Association (CAA) became the go-to hang-out for architects during the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Virgin opened anew hotel in the 1928 Old Dearborn Bank Building; Goettsch Partners has completed the LondonHouse Hotel in the 1923 London Guarantee Building; and the 1928 Chicago Motor Club, the 1929 Carbon and Carbide Building, and the Burnham and Root–designed 1895 Reliance building have been converted into a Hampton Inn, a Hard Rock Hotel, and Kimpton Burnham Hotel, respectively. Now, another “new hotel, old building” is opening outside of this downtown cluster, to much fanfare.
The Robey hotel, named after the historic street name of what is today Damen Avenue, is located at the major intersection of Damen Avenue, North Avenue, and Milwaukee Avenue, an area called Six Points in Wicker Park. Located in a 1929 building officially known as the Northwest Tower, and more locally known as the Coyote Building, the 12-story art deco tower is the tallest building by far in the neighborhood. It is a local icon, and for decades it was the center of an annual arts festival called Around the Coyote. In the more recent past, however, the tower has laid largely empty, often on the verge of bankruptcy.
Over the last three years, the Coyote Building has been transformed with major brickwork repair, all new windows, and a flagpole and Robey flag atop the building’s cupola. Chicago-based Antunovich Associates was the architect of record on the project, with design work by Brussels offices Nicolas Schuybroek Architects and Marc Merckx Interiors. The hotel is being managed by the Mexican hoteliers Grupo Habita.
Along with the hotel, the building includes a hostel called the Hollander, three restaurants, two bars, and a small rooftop pool. The hotel itself has 69 rooms, including rooms in the sharp southeast corner with unblocked views of downtown, three miles away. The rooftop Cabana Club bar and restaurant on the roof also offers panoramic views of the city.
When the Northwest Tower was designed by Perkins, Chatten & Hammond in the 1920s, it was one of the first towers outside of Chicago’s downtown. Since then, it has remained one of the tallest to not be in the city’s center or along the lakefront. Though a handful of slightly shorter transit-oriented developments are popping up in the Robey’s vicinity, it is unlikely that it will lose its status as an icon of the near northwest side.
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Stacking glass bars in Chicagoland
Young design firms move into the Monadnock building
Among Chicago architects, the Monadnock Building is an icon. The tower is a product of the Chicago School, half designed by Burnham and Root and half by Holabird & Roche, built in two phases. Yet it is unlike any of its contemporaries. To start, its older southern Burnham & Root half is a masonry structure, the tallest in the world. And though the southern half, built three years later, is a more typical steel structure, the similarities to other 1890s Chicago buildings end there. Notably, rather than the ubiquitous center atrium of most Chicago School builds, the Monadnock has a thin interior pedestrian street, complete with old-timey shops. The upper floors of pint-sized offices are mostly filled with attorneys and the occasional private detective, yet a few small architecture firms have set up shop in this enigmatic structure.
Among the half dozen or so practices in the building, an even smaller contingent is in their first official office spaces. For them, the move from the dining room table to a downtown high-rise was an important step in establishing their practice in the city. An added benefit has been the growing community of critical practices under one roof. Norman Kelley and Design With Company share a small office on the 12th floor, with just enough room for each to have an intern or two at any given time. Three stories below, PORT Urbanism makes epic master plans in a 300-square-foot office. The highly experimental Weathers and MANA Design/Protostudio also call the building home.
“The space complements our life,” said Stewart Hicks of Design With Company. “Before, working out of our home, there was no separation of work and life. Not that we ever stop working, but now we can walk here, and we are a short distance from the University of Illinois at Chicago where we teach. It is also just easy to find someone in the building to talk to, and bounce ideas off of.”
Having an office in the 125-year-old Monadnock is not without its drawbacks, though. The depth of the offices is governed by the distance from the central hall to the building’s envelope, only around 15 feet. Though affordable, the often-tiny offices leave very little space for producing. MANA Design/Protostudio and Weathers find themselves limited by space, unable to produce the models and prototypes with which they often work. To deal with the lack of space, the offices rely on connections they have to universities, shared spaces, and a series of specialized fabricators. Design With Company often calls upon stage-scene fabricators to build installation pieces, as it has found scene builders to be more accustomed to the scale and precision the models demand. Some of the unique benefits of the building include operable wood-frame windows and classic hand-painted doors straight out of a film noir.
Each of these firms flies steadily under the radar in a city dominated by many of the largest corporate firms in the world. Only a few blocks away, the Motorola Building, formerly the Santa Fe and Railway Exchange Building, is occupied by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Stantec, and Goettsch Partners. Despite its lower profile, the Monadnock crew has recently seen a great deal of critical and popular success. Norman Kelley was responsible for one of the Chicago Biennial’s most popular submissions, Chicago, How Do You See?, an expansive vinyl window treatment on the front of the Chicago Cultural Center. Its new Aesop skin care storefront has also garnered international attention. Along with its own contribution to the biennial, Design With Company was responsible for a playful forum-like installation at Design Miami for Airbnb. PORT’s projects tap into a very real idea of “make no small plans.” Its submission to the biennial, The Big Shift, raised ire among mainstream media critics, but thrilled visitors. Both Sean Lally, the head of Weathers, and Norman Kelley were recipients of the coveted Rome Prize, joining the likes of Richard Meier, Charles Moore, Michael Graves, and Stanley Tigerman. The more established KOO, also in the building, was recently given the go-ahead from the city to move forward with a new hotel on Navy Pier.
The Monadnock represents the possibilities of Chicago architecture, from its original soaring masonry ambitions to some of today’s most experimental young practices. If there is an argument to be made about the power of space and adjacency, the Monadnock may just be the model to prove the point. Expect more exceptional things from this exceptional building.
One of the best ways to experience Chicago is from a rooftop, so naturally hoteliers are cashing in. Case in point: The new Goettsch Partners-designed LondonHouse. Located at the corner of North Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, along the East Branch of the Chicago River, the 452-room hotel boosts a three-story penthouse bar and restaurant. The LondonHouse is a hybrid renovation-new-build with 183,000 of its total 250,000 square feet located in the historic Alfred Alschuler–designed 1923 London Guarantee Building. The remaining 67,000 square feet are in a narrow sliver of a building that finally completes Wacker’s streetwall, filling an odd 20-spot surface parking lot. This contemporary curtain-walled addition acts as the entry to the hotel with a second-floor lobby and restaurant, the Bridges Lobby Bar.
The main draw of the hotel for guests and the public alike is the three-story LH bar and restaurant on the building’s roof. With infinitely Instagrammable views up and down the river, the scene is a veritable architect’s dream. Directly across from the hotel sits no less than, Marina City, AMA Plaza (formerly IBM), the Trump Tower, the Wrigley Building, and the Tribune Tower. With special attention paid to the city’s landmarks codes, a cupola of the Guarantee Building has also been opened for events, accessible through LondonHouse.
LondonHouse 85 E Upper Wacker Dr., Chicago Tel: 312-357-1200 Architect: Goettsch Partners Interior Design: Simeone Deary Design Group
With the recent opening of Ross Barney Architects’ public Riverwalk, Chicago is taking a much harder look at its “second shoreline.” Unlike the Lake Michigan public shoreline however, improvements to the riverbanks rely on developers, as most of the land is private. Unfortunately, since the city laid out its “Chicago River Corridor Design Guidelines and Standards” in 2005, there has been so little development along the river that only now is the city is getting a glimpse of its possible benefits. With the last two major projects along the rivers edge being the Trump Tower and 300 N. LaSalle, both finished in 2009, the city anxiously watches as private development along the river once again picks up. Now with three riverfront towers well under construction, and two more planned all around the convergence of the north, south, and main branches, the river is looking to be a much different place one year from now.
Already in full form is bKL Architecture’s Wolf Point West tower. The 500-foot-tall, 48-story residential tower is the smallest structure in the master plan by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and includes two taller towers and an improved public river walk. With 510 units, ranging from studios to three bedroom apartments, the balcony-laden tower is destined to become highly sought-after housing stock. Positioned on a small piece of land jutting out into the river, views to and from the tower are uninterrupted from almost all directions. Substantial completion is planned for years end, and it is already becoming hard to remember, or believe, that there was once a flat parking lot on the site.
Courtesy Goettsch Partners
Also occupying a former riverfront parking lot is the quickly rising Pickard Chilton-designed River Point tower at 444 W. Lake Street. Across the river from Wolf Point, the 730-foot-tall office tower sits on axis with the main branch of the river looking east. Bucking the recent trend of concrete towers in the city, River Point is a steel structure that finds its form in intersecting parabolic curves. “The curves are a response to the river and the train tracks that run below the building, as well as the building’s relationship to 333 Wacker across the river,” Pickard Chilton design principal and Chicago native, Anthony Markese said. With both Ogilvie and Union train stations directly to the south, the site sees some of the busiest train traffic in the city. Now thanks to the building’s new plinth covering the tracks, the public will soon be able to access the river in front of the building on the recently finished 1.5-acre riverfront plaza. Markese described the project as something of a “tower in a park, in the middle of the city.” The west side of the building, along Canal Street, will also have public programing, including a triple-height glazed lobby, retail space, and the entrance to a two story restaurant that will extend through the plinth to the river-side of the building. The city will not have to wait long see the final form of the building, as it is scheduled to top out before years end.
Courtesy Goettsch Partners
At 732 feet tall, the tallest of the three towers is the 150 N. Riverside Tower by Goettsch Partners, just to the south of River Point along the South branch of the river. Also a mostly-steel tower, Riverside comes down to the ground on an extremely slender site. Taken up mostly by the same rail tracks that traverse the River Point tower site, the lot has been vacant for nearly 50 years. Continuing with the theme of enhancing the river’s edge, a large green-roofed plinth will cap the tracks and hold a restaurant and public plaza. For the majority of the 51 stories, floor plates are cantilevered off of both sides of the elevator core to the east and west. In what will be possibly the largest of its kind, a 110-foot-tall glass fin wall will enclose the lobby on the west side of the building, sheltered under the cantilevering floorplates above. Besides the public outdoor space along the river and at the base of the tower, setbacks allow for private outdoor terraces at its upper levels.
With no building allowed on the lakeshore, developers have finally seemed to realize that if they want to be near water, then the river is their best bet. With remediation underway to clean up the polluted water and extensive city-funded shore improvements, the river is quickly becoming the focus of the downtown. No longer are buildings turning their backs on the water, and more and more the public is being given easement across private plazas to get to its banks. With so much attention on the river, it is only a matter of time before people remember that the old symbol of Chicago, the circle inscribed Y found on so many public buildings and bridges, represents the branches of the river that were once so integral to the city.