OP-EDS

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March 3, 2006

Chicago remains at the forefront of the world’s architecture scene

What I have never understood about car companies is why they spend their time and money on concept cars. If there is never any chance to buy the “bullet car,” why get me all excited about it? Far too many afternoons at the barbershop were spent by yours truly ogling the pictures and then being disappointed to find out that they were only “concepts,” and “unlikely to go to market.” Jerks. Unfortunately for us in Chicago, architecture frequently takes on a similar tone. Where many proposals do come up, only the select few eventually get the privilege to rise above the skyline.

Unlike car concepts, almost every building concept that gets presented to the public is one that somebody wants to build. With so many new buildings being proposed, from “the drill bit” to the “tweezer,” it is important to be able to decipher fact from fiction when it comes to which of today’s blueprints will become tomorrow’s landmarks.

Perhaps the most prominent two building constructions currently making headlines are about a half a mile apart: 109 North State (formerly Block 37) and The Trump Tower Chicago. Being developed by the Mills Corporation, 109 North State broke ground earlier this fall and is going to fill in one of the most contentious pieces of property in the city. For a significant period of time, this whole city block, numbered 37, was free of buildings. Despite its amazing location (across the street from Marshall Field’s), the property had major problems due to the fact that it had two EL lines running under it, along Dearborn and State (Red and Blue), and a small Com-Ed station bordering Dearborn. Any type of project would have needed to take these elements into account. Up until a few years ago the site had been used for “Skate on State” in the winter and Gallery 37 arts functions in the summer, but nothing more. Now the page has turned.

After a few failed ventures, Mills finally came in and presented a plan that was worth being placed in downtown Chicago. The full block structure will roughly be a five-story base with three towers rising out of different parts of the base. These towers are planned to be used as hotel, condo, and offices. The base will be retail with the first floor along Dearborn housing CBS Channel 2, complete with a street-side studio (think Rockefeller Center, or the WGN and NBC Studios at Michigan Avenue and the river.) The area that will not be utilized by the towers is going to be a roof-top garden. Although all of that is neat, the best feature, in my opinion, is the new CTA Station that will sit below ground. The planned construction of a new station at this juncture is going to set up non-stop trains to both Midway and O’Hare from the central downtown location. Although tickets for these trains may cost a bit more, they will surely be worth it.

No matter how you may feel about Donald Trump, he is coming to Chicago. His building, at Rush and the River, is being built in an interesting way. By using concrete pillars drilled down to the bedrock, the building will basically be able to build from the inside out, thus allowing for a maximum amount of glass along the façade of the building. If you go to the website you can actually look at pictures of the Chicago skyline with the building in it. The final building is very much under construction and a welcome addition to the river front, considering it will be taking the place of the eyesore Chicago Sun-Times Building.

As for most of the other plans that are going on downtown, they are exactly that: plans. The Fordham Spire (drill bit, birthday candle, etc.) is one that is going to be worth watching, although my money is that it doesn’t get built. This 2,000-foot tall monster, although full of artistic and architectural merit since it was designed by architecture rock star Santiago Calatrava, is being put up by a company that does not have the best track record when it comes to funding projects. Estimated to cost $500 million, this building surely would test any well funded company’s limits, much less one that is not the most financially sound. Additionally, the design does not allow for a ton of floor space; therefore, the condos would have to be really pricey and would have to service a market that already has a large amount of expensive condos.

Although I have only touched upon the three highest profile cases in the city, this is only the beginning. Other buildings, such as One Museum Park (Roosevelt Road and Lake Shore Drive) and 340 on the Park (340 East Randolph Street), are surely going to alter the skyline, but have not received the media attention of the others. No matter which ones eventually come to fruition, it is nice to see that Chicago is definitely still a showcase for international architecture.