Construction Update
Michigan Avenue’s Ghost Building

 618 South Michigan Avenue

It’s been 11 months since we last wrote about 618 South Michigan Avenue.  It’s a building with a past that’s becoming its future.

Built in the early 1900’s, 618 was bought by IBM in 1949, and given a terrible renovation.  The original facade was stripped off and replaced with cladding that was suitable for the era, but that did not retain its aesthetic pleasures very long.  Tastes changed, and now the historic character is coming back.

The building is now owned by Columbia College, and it hired Gensler to do the renovation.

The facade has once again been stripped away, and is now replaced by a glass curtain wall.  This glass is printed with thousands (millions?) of tiny little ceramic birds.  Seen from a distance, they form the image of the building’s original pre-1949 facade.

Standing across the street, it looks like the building is covered with white tiles, but they’re not really there.  It’s the ceramic-on-glass effect.  Unfortunately, it photographs terribly with a cameraphone.  The pattern causes a moire effect that shows up as colors on the finished image.  Once the work is done, we’ll shoot it with our professional equipment that shouldn’t have the same problem.

In context, the building works well with the neighboring Spertus Institute (610 South Michigan Avenue), but somewhat less well with Columbia College’s South Building (formerly the Torco Oil Building at 624 South Michigan Avenue) on the other side.  That structure, though, does have white blocks in its facade, so when it’s done the bird simulation on 618 might provide a visual link between its two neighbors.

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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