Planned Giants in Chicago’s South Loop: Build Them All – As Designed

One Museum Park on the left, with The Grant Condominiums on the right

One Museum Park on the left, with The Grant Condominiums on the right

Needless to say, I am very encouraged with the recent announcements concerning the new towers planned for the South Loop—five in all. I wish that the images displayed so far were to come to fruition, and those structures portrayed be built as shown and not dumbed-down by external forces. But then I know changes are inevitable. There are architectural designs classified as “as drawns,” and there are those “as builts.” The models and renderings of this handful of towers are potent in themselves, and these suggest that some real excitement can be expected in a part of town that really needs some new architectural expression. The South Loop deserves better design recognition, and these landmark towers can help propel it out of the architectural doldrums that have marked this patch-quilt neighborhood for the last thirty years.

It is true that One Museum Park (Pappageorge Haymes Partners, 2009), a 62-story, 726-foot tall skyscraper, and its neighbor to the west, The Grant (Pappageorge Haymes Partners, 2010), a 54-story, 595-foot tall tower, are more recent exceptions. These two condominium buildings were indeed controversial in their very beginnings due to their designs, heights, and expected increase in density. But today, these towers seem to have acclimated to their locations quite nicely, and it would be difficult to imagine the south edge of Grant Park without them; they provide not only housing, but a needed termination wall that helps to define the south edge of Grant Park. These skyscrapers were just a start and were valiant attempts at reinvigorating the South Loop and giving a sorely-needed edge condition—visual termination or containment wall—to Grant Park’s southern expanse. More height and additional urban/park-edge-defining is needed. Hopefully, more intelligent planning will surface to competently complete the south—visual termination—wall for Grant Park; this giant green expanse deserves better than frittering itself away into the architecturally ragtag neighborhoods that currently gird its southwestern edge. Walls of tall buildings can do this, and do this very well; after all, a number of empty lots will be infilled! Recall Manhattan’s Central Park, and for a closer example, look to the manner in which Chicago’s Grant Park is defined to its north and northwestern boundaries. Grant is an urban park, it is not a primeval forest.

The two boxes in the middle represent Rafael Vinoly's proposed towers. On the right is the supertall proposed by Jahn.

The two boxes in the middle represent Rafael Vinoly's proposed towers. On the right is the supertall proposed by Jahn.

Those aforementioned recent announcements include the following developments: 1000 South Michigan, a Helmut Jahn-designed skyscraper promising to reach 1,002 feet (already reduced from 1,030 feet) above the street; a two-towered development by internationally-renowned architect Rafael Vinoly featuring a 76-story, 862-foot tall residential tower with a promise for a second taller skyscraper—later; a 48-story, 490-foot tall apartment building by Solomon Cordwell Buenz architects to be located in the 1300 block of South Michigan Avenue; and finally a structural tour-de-force by Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture named the Essex Inn Tower, a 54-story apartment building to rise 605 feet (for comparison’s sake, the same height as the Chicago Board of Trade Building) above Michigan Avenue. The Essex’s apartments will rise from the 12th floor-level which stands above a “cut-out void in the tower’s form” which is framed by a diagonal nest of supporting columns.

Certainly revisions—or architect-sponsored refinements—will occur with each of these proposals. But I can only hope that these will be minor, and the city, South Loop neighbors, and a host of stakeholder groups will trust the design skills of the various firms and leave well-enough alone. These new skyscrapers should indeed be built as rendered—or adhere closely to the spirit in which they were conceived—for the sake of architectural and urban design integrity. Let these experts in design and urban planning—the architects—and the people who are paying for these new towers, determine their final appearances and heights, and let them build these five projects as recently presented. My mantra: No aesthetic dumbing-down by citizen groups, politicos, or city agencies should be tolerated!

Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Leave a comment