Valerio Dewalt Train Associates overcomes NIMBY lawsuit to build expressive tower on Chicago’s South Side
It was a long road from design to construction for Vue53 in the South Side Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park. The 13-story tower sits along the bustling 53rd Street and has completely changed the character of the area. While change to the busy conduit was inevitable, not everybody was thrilled about it.
Designed by Chicago-based Valerio Dewalt Train Associates, Vue53 was originally scheduled to begin construction in early 2014. A NIMBY lawsuit delayed that start date by nearly one and a half years. The Save 53rd Street advocacy group felt the project was out of scale for the neighborhood and that the zoning change passed by the city, which allowed the tower to go up, was illegal, among other complaints. Opponents donned “Sky, Not Skyscraper” buttons at community meetings. The First District Illinois Appellate Court did not agree. In February 2015 the case was dismissed, permitting the project to continue.
Fast forward two years or so, and Hyde Park has a new 135-foot-tall 267-unit tower. A formally expressive building in glass and concrete, Vue53 comprises a large base and two shifted linear towers. The base rises to the height of the surrounding buildings and contains retail and amenities. These include a compact urban Target store as well as a rooftop terrace, complete with grass and views of the lush park across the street. The building also includes an exercise facility, a business center, and a number of study rooms distributed throughout (for the students the Vue53 is aiming to attract).
The studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units may be a bit smaller than the average being built downtown, but they may also be just right for the intended tenants. The project was in fact initiated by the University of Chicago, just blocks to the south. Yet it is not the amenities, or the battle against upset neighbors, that have set this project apart.
While developers are busy constructing sleek, glassy monolith apartment buildings downtown, Vue53 takes a decidedly more formally daring approach to attracting young renters. Particularly in the upper towers, the project plays a Tetris-like game of solid and void. Together with the shifted relationship of the two towers, the project is more than a glass box on a plinth. The interplay of glass and exposed concrete only exaggerates these moves.
That relationship of glass and concrete carries right into the building’s multi-story lobby and even the units themselves. Cashing in on the trend of rougher unfinished materials, the units are a mix of the exposed concrete and more typical drywall. And though the units may be small, they are all dominated by floor-to-ceiling windows with views either to the north to downtown, or to the south over the picturesque Hyde Park neighborhood.
While Vue53 ran into some stiff opposition in its initial stages, it is by no means alone in the rising skyline of Hyde Park. With multiple new Studio Gang towers in the neighborhood as well, it may seem a bit out of the blue for the area to be receiving so much architectural investment. Yet it should be remembered that, historically, Hyde Park has been one of the most architecturally rich neighborhoods in the city. The University of Chicago alone is a zoo of formal exuberance, from Saarinen to Legorreta. Despite its detractors, Vue53 may be only the beginning of a reenergized architectural scene on the city’s South Side.
2016 Building of the Year > Midwest: University of Iowa Visual Arts Building by Steven Holl Architects
The Architect’s Newspaper (AN)’s inaugural 2013 Best of Design Awards featured six categories. Since then, it's grown to 26 exciting categories. As in years past, jury members (Erik Verboon, Claire Weisz, Karen Stonely, Christopher Leong, Adrianne Weremchuk, and AN’s Matt Shaw) were picked for their expertise and high regard in the design community. They based their judgments on evidence of innovation, creative use of new technology, sustainability, strength of presentation, and, most importantly, great design. We want to thank everyone for their continued support and eagerness to submit their work to the Best of Design Awards. We are already looking forward to growing next year’s coverage for you.
2016 Building of the Year > Midwest: University of Iowa Visual Arts Building
Architect: Steven Holl Architects Location: Iowa City, IA
The new Visual Arts Building for the University of Iowa’s School of Art and Art History, which replaced a 1936 building that was heavily damaged by a flood, provides 126,000 square feet of loft-like studio space for all visual arts disciplines by utilizing both traditional techniques and advanced technologies. Alongside Art Building West—also designed by Steven Holl Architects and completed in 2006—the two structures define a visual arts campus for the theorizing, teaching, and making of art. Studios are open and visible to display each discipline’s practice and product, while seven vertical cutouts through the building’s horizontal floor plates maximize natural light and ventilation.
Associate Architect BNIM ArchitectsStructural Engineers BuroHappold, Structural Engineering Associates Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing Design Engineers Zinc and perforated stainless-steel exterior skin RHEINZINK Glass Bendheim Architectural Glass Honorable Mention: Building of the Year > Midwest: Gordon Parks Arts Hall
Architect: Valerio Dewalt Train Associates Location: Chicago, IL
Reinterpreting the neo-gothic architecture of the University of Chicago’s neighboring buildings, the Gordon Parks Arts Hall celebrates the school’s commitment to hands-on learning with rooms designed to produce and present content.
Metal and glass accentuate Chicago high-rise's iconic form.Given the odds stacked against it, Godfrey Hotel's 2014 opening in Chicago counts as a major victory—even if it took more than a decade to get there. Valerio Dewalt Train Associates (VDTA) signed on to the project in 2003, after being approached by a developer affiliated with a mid-market hospitality chain. Four years later, following a delay in financing, construction was finally underway. Then the recession hit, the original developer went under, and the building remained half-finished. The case languished in bankruptcy court until 2012, when Oxford Capital Group purchased the property. Fortunately, boutique hotel operator Oxford Hotels and Resorts hired VDTA to complete the project—with few changes to the original plans. "It's interesting that through the course of the almost four years that this sat wrapped in tarps, it remained desirable," said VDTA's David Jennerjahn. "For the hotel operator, it was a really distinguishing architectural design." Together with its cantilevered form, Godfrey hotel's slick metal panel and glass facade combines function and aesthetics in an iconic package. The hotel appears as a series of three offset rectangular boxes, stacked vertically. "The building has a very symbolic form—what I would call a very muscular form—and none of that is arbitrary," said VDTA's Joe Valerio. The offsets serve two purposes. First, they express the building's structure, which follows the staggered truss system developed in the 1960s by William LeMessurier, a noted structural engineer. As the name suggests, LeMessurier's method involves staggering story-high steel trusses on alternating column lines, thus creating large clear span interiors. Though the staggered truss system is usually deployed to create buildings that "look like a cereal box," said Valerio, VDTA approached their structural engineer with an alternative proposal. "We nonchalantly said, 'There's a lot of redundant strength there. [The volumes] should be able to cantilever out,'" he recalled. The structural engineer gave them the go-ahead, and Godfrey Hotel's unique form was born. As an additional benefit, the stacked configuration allowed the architects to carve the interior spaces into a variety of room types and sizes, an idea they prized from the project's beginning—and which Oxford Hotels and Resorts, in particular, embraced. Like the offsets, said Jennerjahn, the building's skin performs a specific set of functions even as it "works toward the goal of creating a distinctive boutique hotel image." On the north and south facades, an insulated metal panel system from Metl-Span attaches directly to the stud work, doing triple duty as weather barrier, vapor barrier, and insulation. Integrated punched windows nod to the River North neighborhood's masonry fabric, while the panels' taut surface avoids detracting attention from the building's unique shape. Finally, said Jennerjahn, "using a metal skin on a metal frame building was another tie to an honest expression [of the structure]." The east and west facades are almost entirely transparent. "In 2003, no one had heard of LEED," said Valerio. Noting the potential for solar gain, he explained, "If we were designing the building today, we wouldn't have all-glass walls on the east and west elevations. We put them there because we wanted to take advantage of the views." The glass also reveals the staggered truss system. Because the trusses run north-south, opening the building to the east and west was the only way to show them off. "That created other opportunities we did not even think of," said Valerio. In some cases, he said, "the trusses really become a part of the room," operating as built-in furniture. Despite the change in ownership and an eleven-year gap between conception and execution, Godfrey Hotel's architectural design remained almost entirely unaltered. "There were some changes internally, but the exterior of the building and the expression of the building were very consistent," observed Jennerjahn. Valerio agrees—and is humble enough to acknowledge the unusual serendipity of the situation. "Oxford fundamentally built the hotel exactly as we had designed it," he said. "It was really just an amazing kind of dumb luck."