Summer in Chicago is a special time. After months of being beaten by Mother Nature incessantly, the sky breaks, the sun shines and Chicagoans scramble to figure out what sort of ensemble to wear amongst the myriad of unpredictable temperatures. While the breaking of the cold has always been a transitionary moment for the city; from the cold Gotham to the sunny wonderland of beaches and street fests, this summer could prove to be an even larger evolutionary change for the city. As we’ve documented previously, the city’s skyline is undergoing one of the biggest building sprees since the 70s/80s and the break in cold should only serve to speed things up even more.
Much has been written about the record number of cranes dotting Chicago’s skyline and the boom in taller structures creeping west from the Loop. In many ways, a machine that had been running smoothly almost a decade ago is now kicking back into gear slowly but surely. Ambitious plans that were scrapped back then in the wake of the Recession are now being brought back to life, reimagined, added to or finished up. New buildings seem to be proposed weekly in the Streeterville/River North area, neighborhoods like Wicker Park, the West Loop and even as far as Logan Square are getting the Baby Boomer special: six-plus story buildings covered in glass panes. Regardless of how you feel about the evolutionary change that Chicago is going through, it has to be understood through a prism of local politics, economy and whether or not all of this is truly necessary.
As we’ve written before, the motivations of these builders is less so creating inspiring new additions to one of the most iconic skylines in the world, and more about continuing Chicago’s foray into NYC-level posh. While highways crumble, mental health facilities close and public schools are drowning in debt, developers locally have set their sights on creating spaces for the 1% while the rest of the city deals with closing schools, rising rent and taxes, crumbling infrastructure and lead in their drinking water. Despite these basic necessities faltering in the nation’s third-largest city, the glass towers keep rising higher. You can’t stop change no matter how hard you try. With that in mind, we took a look at some of the impending changes to the city’s skyline and how it affects all of us that call it home, for now.
Perhaps one of the saddest and most poignant examples of Chicago’s transition as a city in the last decade, the de-evolution of the iconic Tribune Tower will be a dramatic one. The journalists of the Chicago Tribune moved out months ago, setting up shop down the street at the Prudential Building after 93 years operating just off Michigan Avenue. Developers, per usual in this city, went about gutting the building almost immediately, and have most egregiously removed the legendary office of Colonel Robert R. McCormick. That office was a must-see for any aspiring Chicago journalist and the building itself was long a testament to a city built on hardwork and the newspaper industry, of which its namesake is now one of the last vestiges. While these culturally-insensitive money-grabbers have been tearing up history inside, they’ve also made plans for outside. Next door, just east of Tribune Tower, Chicago developer Golub & Co. and LA-based partner CIM Group have proposed a 96-story tower. Plans call for a hotel, condominiums and assorted shopping, all housed in a glass half-cylinder that looks strikingly like every other building that’s gone up in the city in the last five years.
We’ll have to wait and see how things pan out moving forward for the planned 1,422 ft structure, but already a distinct part of Chicago history has been lost. Should the new plans go through, the building will be the second-tallest in the city, and a symbol of how different Chicago has become in the 21st Century.
400 N Lake Shore Drive
400 N Lake Shore Drive is the working title for the site that once was plotted as the location of the largest skyscraper in Chicago, and has since been the owner of the deepest hole in the city. Yes, the long-vaunted Chicago Spire site will get a structure at long last, as plans from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) call for a pair of towers: 1,100-foot southern tower containing 300 condo units and 175 hotel rooms and an adjoining 850-foot tower with 550 rental apartments.
The larger of the two towers will overtake Trump Tower as the second-largest in the city after Willis Tower and together they will add a statement to the mouth of the Chicago River where it meets Lake Michigan. While the Tribune Tower is slated to overtake an already-occupied plot of land, 400 N Lake Shore Drive will be filling in one of the lasting reminders of the Recession of 2008, and add an interesting pair of structures that in preliminary renderings look to play on the past and future of the city. The glass will still be there by the plenty, but builders have opted for a terra-cotta finish that evokes earlier eras of local architecture. The project will also help to finish work on nearby DuSable park, $10 million was earmarked for the undeveloped 3.3-acre peninsula east of North Lake Shore Drive. Plans here are still awaiting approval, with projections to break ground by 2019 and finish work by 2023.
One Chicago Square
One of the more recent and interesting plans to be proposed to city officials, One Chicago Square, is not just one building, but a $740 million mixed-use complex. The plan calls for a replacement of the entire block bordered by State, Superior, Dearborn, and Chicago with one of the two towers rising to the city’s sixth-tallest. What makes this project different, other than the hyper-gentrification that tearing out an entire city block for a pair of high-rises, is the size of those anchoring structures. Ironically enough, despite the size, what sets them apart is the lack of space they provide due to a skinnier structure. It makes the skyscraper, which is slated to boast 850 residential units, boutique offices, a grocery store, event space, and a high-end health club will be considerably less dense than its neighbors, offering a new addition to the changing skyline that doesn’t add as many new citizens in an already-congested area.
“By going tall and slender, we open up a lot of light and air for everyone around us,” explained Jim Letchinger of JDL Development.
The construction, if approved would be a continuance of the creeping of large buildings from the heart of the loop outward. Across the street on Dearborn is Holy Name Church and much of the buildings in the area are remnants of a bygone area that have benefited from being just outside the previously perceived Loop. Also, similar to 400 N Lake Shore Drive, developers here are balancing out their abundance of glass with a true stone base, proving more staying power than some of the buildings we’ve seen go up on the west end of the Chicago River in the last few years. The project has been moving through planning stages since late last year.
One Grant Park
It’s not just River North and Streeterville getting facelifts. On the south end of Grant Park, a behemoth of a skyscraper has been slowly rising ever higher as developers have worked on getting what will be the city’s second-largest tower into the sky. The 76-story tower designed by Uruguay-born architect Rafael Viñoly for Florida-based developer Crescent Heights is changing the South Loop at Roosevelt and Indiana with the 792-unit building. The tower is expected to top out over 800 feet, which will provide a necessary counter-balance of building height to the South Loop and could be seen as a notable moment for the area as development moves further in that direction. It also adds an interesting and satisfying bookend to Grant Park. At the same time, it creates a sort of claustrophobic feel to the park similar to the Wolf Point developments that have crowded the west end of the Chicago River.
This project, which has somewhat quietly begin construction over the last year, will act as a sort of capstone to Grant Park that mirrors the Prudential building to the north end, effectively framing downtown’s centerpiece to the lake. When all is said and done this one could rise almost 900 feet in the air, and plans for the future call for an even taller building just to the west of it. Keep an eye out for its completion some time next year.