A Personal Critique of a Future Landmark

I remember it vividly as something of a formative childhood experience. The news came hard in the year 2009, when they announced that the last construction vehicle was to be sadly removed from the empty lot on the corner of Lake Shore Drive and the Chicago River. They left behind a now infamous hole in the ground that has collected water for the past decade. Due to the Great Recession and a lack of sales, the Chicago Spire was repeatedly postponed and canceled in the following years. This made me—a young, impressionable boy with a love of skyscrapers—teary eyed, thinking of the world class tower that we would no longer have.

It’s a decade later, and times are different. When Related Midwest announced they were going to build something “Architecturally Significant” on that same plot of land, to say I was excited would be an understatement. There would be not one, but two gleaming towers there, creating a glassy gateway to the river. I wanted every bit of visual data that I could get my hands on - I ogled videos, inspected photographs, and compared their heights relative to their neighbors. I’ve been obsessed - reviving my childhood enthusiasm. But this time I have some opinions.

 

 

For starters, I am thrilled at the prospect of having these buildings. I still say “BUILD IT!!” every time a developer reveals a new steel and glass pillar, especially one that rears up and breaks 1,000 feet. If/when Related does cut the red ribbon at the door in 2023, I will be more than happy to warmly welcome these two new towers to the skyline.

I also want to compliment the decision to build the two towers at the same time. In fact, I am going to give Related a standing ovation. Too many developers these days are choosing to build their developments one tower at a time. Yes, it delays cost, but it also makes me nervous about what is going to happen to tower 2 when the market dips. I picture the current Chicago building boom as a race. There is a time in the future when the market and demand is going to shrink, and building these tall towers is not going to be quite so enticing an investment. When it comes to 15 stage plans, I don’t like it when the 1,000 footer is left until the end with the hope that the economy and real estate market holds through the most ambitious part of the project. The fact that Related is building both at the same time is going to increase the odds that both towers see the light of day. Smart move, Related.

 

 

However, as such a lover of Chicago skyscrapers, I do have some critiques of this currently unnamed pair of towers.

First, let’s talk about the market again. These towers are planned to be mostly residential, plus a hotel. In case you haven’t noticed, there are many other similar properties being built right now. With all of these forthcoming large residential towers pouring available space into the market, the demand will diminish as we get closer to Related’s date of completion. Just to provide some context, One Bennett Park is practically next door, as is Wanda Vista. Both are scheduled to open their doors within the next year, before the first pylons have even been drilled for 400 N Lakeshore. Related is going to need to seriously up its marketing strategy. And I say this knowing it’s the single best spot in the city to build a residential building. We don’t want anymore 10-year holes.

Next, let us talk about the elephant in the room; the legacy that this development has to fill. The design is certainly is nothing to scoff at, especially the way it pays homage to classic Chicago architecture with its bay windows and terracotta exterior. However, it is filling some big shoes, rising up where we expected the striking silhouette of the Spire to rise a decade ago. To follow up The Chicago Spire is a difficult task to say the least. Building a stunning, 2,000 ft. masterpiece designed by one of the world’s most popular “starchitects”, Calatrava, isn’t something a city gets the chance to do very often. Meeting that expectation is hard for any developer to do (heck, even the original team was unable to follow through). As such, anything presented in its stead is going to be less awe-inspiring. In my mind, the presented towers fit that description. Cool, yes, but awe-inspiring? No. This creates the issue that, while the project certainly is impressive and will be a major impact on Chicago’s skyline, it isn’t the majestic, soaring sky needle the Spire could have been.

Lastly, Related, please name your project, and please give it the iconic name it deserves. Names are VERY important in Chicago. And a number is not a name. Either you name it, or we are going to name it something you don’t like. I’m just going to make a little, suggestive nod at Chicago’s collection of black, iconic, super-tall, mislabeled skyscrapers that have two antennae to emphasize this part. Related, this isn’t 400 N. Lakeshore. Until you give me a better name, I’m calling them Da Gates.

So, what are my thoughts on these two towers? I like them. Sure, they aren’t the Spire, but what could be? They’re impressive looking, especially from the river (which is arguably the most important view), and as such, I approve their addition to the skyline. In fact, I welcome them with open arms. I am a firm believer that Chicago needs and deserves to add more modern supertalls to its skyline. The towers at 400 N. Lakeshore would go a long way to help that. So I will finish this by saying “Related Midwest, build Da Gates! I wish you safe and fruitful construction!”

 
Credit - All images by Noe & Associates/Boundary, courtesy of Related Midwest