Lighting Up Burberry’s Black Box

Drawing of the Burberry Flagship Store

We had some pretty big worries about what’s coming to the corner of North Michigan Avenue and East Ontario Street.  Now it appears the Burberry black block rising at number 633 may not be as bad as many people feared.

You’ll remember that this store is based on Burberry’s new standard designs for flagship stores.  The only other one in the world built so far is in Beijing, so Chicago gets serial number 002.  Except, that it’s been de-glitzed so as not to disturb sensitive Midwestern corsets.

The picture above is a new rendering of the $10 million building that came in this morning.  It has two vertical light wells on its public faces.  On the Michigan Avenue side it looks like mannequins and supergraphics will gaze out upon the Magnificent Mile.   People on Ontario Street will get to look up into… a stairwell.

But don’t get your undies in a bundle yet.  Even though in the rendering it looks like a fire escape, this is actually the main staircase for the store.  It’s a functional item turned into an architectural focal point.  We’ve seen this before recently, with the new Barneys New York store (15 East Oak Street) up the street.  People on the corner of Rush and Oak can watch Barneys shoppers gliding up and down behind Prairie School-inspired fretwork.

Photograph courtesy of Burberry

In the non-Chicago version of the new Burberry building, both of the light wells are actually giant video screens, as you can see in the picture of Burberry’s store in Beijing.  That is, quite literally, too flashy for Chicago, so we get windows instead.

Another concession to the city of Chicago is the row of showcase windows on the ground floor.  This makes more sense.  A black mystery cube might fly in cities where people already walk, but Chicago has to work hard to preserve and promote its pedestrian experience to get tourists from the I-states (Indiana, Iowa, Ikelahoma, etc…) out of their four-wheeled fortresses.

More good news about the building — Burberry is going for LEED certification, complete with a 2,450-square-foot green roof.

If you’re eager to get your shop on, mark November 1st on your calendar — just in time to start thinking about trench coats and cashmere scarves.

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Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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