Neighbors Want Taller Skyscrapers in Streeterville

The new apartment and hotel tower planned for 435 North Park Drive in Streeterville is evolving, and moving closer to reality.

Responding to the concerns of neighbors, changes have been made to the as-yet unbranded hotel inside the as-yet unnamed building. For the most part, those changes are minor, and perhaps reflecting the neighborhood’s growing comfort with being the glass tower capital of Chicago, a recent public meeting on the building was actually moved to a smaller space than originally planned, and there was still room to spare.

435 North Park Drive

435 North Park Drive

By the numbers, there is little different to note. Parking has been increased from 219 spaces to 230. And the maximum height has been reduced from 670 feet to 635.

That reduction in height is interesting because it’s not something the community appears to have asked for. Even NIMBY group SORE (Senior Overlords of Real Estate) thinks the building should be taller, and it is known for killing a number of recent nearby skyscrapers because of their heights. As one woman put it at a recent community meeting, “For the most part, a lot of people around here don’t care about the height of a building anymore. A lot of people care about how it looks — the design. How it fits into the area.”

The previous building approved for this location was going to be 1,200 feet tall. The building design now being pitched by developer DRW Investments and architecture firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz is about half that.

SORE points out that if the building was taller, it could be narrower, which would make it look better, block less light, and ruin fewer people’s views.

The architect who designed the building, SCB C.E.O. John Lahey, says the building needs to be the size it is because the hotel requires a certain type of floor plate. That’s also the reason the building is laid out in an L shape — so that it can have large meeting spaces that are necessary to be competitive with the other hotels in the area.

But that doesn’t really answer the question. Since the tower portion of the building is residential, and rental residences don’t need the same kind of contiguous horizontal space as a hotel ballroom, why can’t the residential tower be taller and thinner? Why can’t it at least taper? Or have setbacks?  A scan of SCB’s web site shows that not a single building in its online portfolio tapers, has setbacks, or anything other that straight vertical sides.

When I interviewed Lahey a couple of weeks ago, I asked him if he agreed with me that most SCB buildings look the same. He strongly disagreed when we were talking in private, and when I repeated the assertion in the open in front of some of his staffers, there was at least one audible snort of disapproval.

Yet it’s something that’s come up at least twice in regards to this project. In something of a when-pigs-fly moment, SORE and CAI agree on something: It’s too short.  SORE, in its official comments on the project, wrote:

“We recognize the talent and creativity SCB possesses, but feel that as of late, all of their designs look the same. This proposed structure looks very similar in design to the currently under construction 500 N. Lake Shore Drive and the soon to be constructed 410 E. Grand Ave. We ask that consideration be given to turn this project into a showpiece for the neighborhood, and not a copy of other nearby projects. This uniqueness will benefit the property and the neighborhood.”

The same sentiment was echoed by another resident at a neighborhood meeting about the project when she said, “I think this area deserves something a bit more unique than what it’s gotten.” It was also suggested that 435 North Park looks a lot like an unfinished version of 340 On The Park (340 East Randolph Street) a few blocks away, designed by fellow SCB’er Martin Wolf.

Of course, no one is accusing SCB of phoning it in. On a project of this magnitude, such a thing is simply not possible. But is this design something that SCB would submit to an international competition against its peers? If not, why not?

Skyscrapers get more expensive as they get taller, and maybe DRW can’t afford to put up a statement building. “Go big or go home” doesn’t necessarily apply.  It’s easy for the Chicago Architecture Blog and SORE and the rest of Chicago to throw stones at the design, but we’re not paying for it. At least not in terms of money.

Height aside, there were some other changes, mostly to appease the people living across the street at 440 North McClurg Court. They know there’s nothing they can do to stop a 53-story building from obliterating their view, so they and the Alderman have gotten some changes made so that they’re not staring into a brick wall in an alley.

  • The loading docks have been moved from North New Street, around the corner to Lower East North Water Street.
  • The view corridor from Ogden Plaza to Ogden slip has been preserved.
  • The sidewalk on North New Street will be widened to accommodate better streetscaping.
  • Ornamental lighting fixtures will be hung on the hotel to illuminate New Street. The wall will be clad in pre-cast concrete designed to look like two different kinds of stone.
  • The employee entrance will be on New Street so that it is an active street with people walking down it, and not just an alley.
  • There will be plenty of windows allowing people to see inside the hotel’s offices and function rooms, giving it more visual interest.
  • There will be no curb cuts on New Street.

Current proposal stats:

  • 590 feet to the roof
  • 635 feet to the top
  • Hotel height: 174.5 feet
  • Tower height: 53 stories
  • 400 hotel rooms
  • 398 residences at the top
  • 230 parking
  • Architect: John Lahey
  • Architecture firm: Solomon Cordwell Buenz

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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 chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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