bKL Architecture is going as bullish as any Chicago-based firm in this start-and-stop economy, embarking on big commissions in Beijing and Toronto while committing to more and more work at home. The firm bunks with Magellan Development in ground floor offices at Aqua Tower and has partnered with the Lakeshore East progenitor on a number of buildings including two phases of the new GEMS Academy private school. And now that kinship is extending into River North. Fresh off the drafting table is a 38-story rental tower slated for 720 North LaSalle Street (at Superior) on the present site of a Howard Johnson Inn, one of downtown Chicago’s last remaining suburban-style motels—and a relic of affordability. From a distance, the tower’s sharply defined levels appear as slat balconies in the mode of Coast tower. They aren’t balconies, but rather tan brick delineations. Balconies are present, though, as unevenly spaced insets with belly-height glass rails. “Context was very important [in the design process],” said bKL principal Thomas Kerwin. “River North is rooted in masonry and we looked into the idea of doing something sympathetic to that.” Indeed, there’s quite a colorful mix of masonry in the neighborhood, and so bKL chose three brick tones to work with—mostly lighter brick grounded by darker lines. The brickwork helps to accentuate the tower’s gridlines, which “breaks down and becomes more porous” as one moves from the Wells (west) facade toward LaSalle. The east facade is far glassier than any other, noted Kerwin, in order to maximize lake and skyline views. Parking is fairly minimal for a 298-unit luxury apartment building, with just 118 garage spaces. This is elective—the parcel falls just outside the range of Chicago’s new transit-oriented development ordinance, which permits a halving of off-street parking requirements for new residential developments within 600 feet of a rail station (1200 feet on designated ‘pedestrian streets’). The Chicago Ave Brown Line is a hair too far. Allotted bicycle parking, meanwhile, is nearly twice car parking. That might be a first for the Windy City. Buffering the public from one-and-a-half levels of parking is a band of units that “wrap the perimeter of the podium, creating a zone of actively used space,” according to bKL’s official project description. Retail will also help cloak the podium’s most obvious function, with scattered frontage on LaSalle and Superior. Compare this to Hubbard Place a few blocks away, where developers are trying to disguise a conspicuously huge parking garage with a gaudy paint job. The amenity package is astonishing, even by today’s heightened luxury standards. An 80-foot deep public park will introduce the tower at Wells and Superior, with a dog run and yet-to-be finalized landscape concept. Residents get a podium-top pool and sun deck all to themselves. Apartment layouts are “unique” and “on the smaller side”, said Kerwin, stressing the developer’s desire to balance quality and a modicum of affordability. The vast majority of the units will be studios, convertibles, and one-bedrooms, with a smattering of two-bedroom units. Next up, the project must meet the public at a series of forums, starting with a 42nd Ward development meeting at 6 p.m. on May 19, at Gino’s East, 633 North Wells Street. And, of course, final purchase of the Howard Johnson Inn parcel.
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After a few administrative hurdles and several packed community meetings that aired downtown residents’ concerns, Chicago's Wolf Point is poised to turn perhaps the most prominently underdeveloped piece of land in Chicago into a billion-dollar suite of skyscrapers along the Chicago River. Now that they have cleared the plan commission, developers Hines Interests and Magellan Development are ready to go as soon as they get the final permits in place. Construction will start with the bKL-designed, residential west tower (493 feet tall), which is expected to take 20 months. Towers two and three designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli (950 and 750 feet tall, respectively) will go up after that. The designs of those towers—which will contain office, retail, hotel, and parking space—are not set in stone and could change as the plan rolls out over the next few years. The points of contention raised by audience members at many meetings held since the project was unveiled included some typical complaints about blocking views, as well as opposing calls for more and less parking. Located near some CTA stops, the Pelli Clarke Pelli-designed complex dialed down its parking footprint somewhat—not enough for some transit enthusiasts, and too much for others who worried what the massive development’s impact could be on this dense corner of the Chicago River.
The biggest stir caused by the Kennedy's newest proposal for developing Wolf Point was not obscuring the Merchandise Mart views or initial reactions to the renderings or the stuffing of three very tall towers on one impossibly small piece of land. It was more like, “There’s a living Kennedy with a stake in Chicago real estate?” We all know the family sold the Mart years ago. Fewer of us knew they held on to that little sandbar that sits in front of the the Sun-Times building. Ready to boost the family fortune, the Kennedys with Hines, Cesar Pelli, and bKL plan to stuff three towers onto the site. Is this the architectural equivalent of a 10 lb. bag of sugar in a 5 lb. sack? Maybe, but development of that scale is also kind of exciting. And that leads to the biggest question. Can this economy support a residential and commercial project of this size? Well, Jean—that’s the last sibling standing, right, so the land must be hers—get out your good-faith checkbook: Google is coming. They’ve leased the top floors of the Mart, which will serve as the new headquarters of Motorola, which Google has acquired. That means thousands of high paying fancy Google jobs just across the street. With that news, Wolf Point is a done deal, no?