The West Loop’s Mothballed BP Tower May Still Rise Under a Different Name

625 West Monroe model - Chicago, Illinois - February, 2013 - 001

Christmas came late to Chicago’s skyscraper enthusiasts when last week a plan was announced to erect a 75-story office tower at 601 West Monroe Street.  For the first time in a long time, their Christmas stockings would be stuffed with a truly interesting design, at a highly-visible downtown location, backed by a developer flush with cash from recent building sales.

625 West Monroe 001We saw the drawing in Crain’s Chicago Business, too, and thought, “Boy that looks really good.  And familiar.”  It was as if we’d seen that design before.  Because we had.  Just the day before.  In the offices of architecture firm smdp.

We were in smdp’s studio in the NBC Tower (454 North Columbus Drive) gathering research and interviews for an upcoming profile of the firm (similar to the ones we’ve done on Goettsch Partners, SCB, and bKL).  Among the models on display in the office is 601 West Monroe.

smdp’s monograph describes the building this way:

The design for a proposed development in Chicago’s rapidly evolving west Loop office corridor consists of a 38 story, 928,000 sf office building with an underground parking structure.  The building’s unique form derives from the need to transition from large trading floors at the base of the building to more conventional sized office floors towards the top.  The strength of the sloped wall is reinforced by ‘folding’ the public park space to the south of the site up the south façade to form a series of ‘sky gardens.’ Designs to be a signature form marking the west entry to the Loop, the building also strives to obtain a Platinum LEED rating, the highest level of certification sought for a commercial project in Chicago.

The description above does a good job of explaining how the building will interact with Heritage Green Park (610 West Adams Street), and you can see in the photograph of the architectural model above how trees inside the building will continue (or maybe mock, in the winter) the greenery outside.

625 West Monroe 002But what was that about a “trading floor?”

“Before BP moved into the CME Center they were looking for space, so this is the south of Presidential Towers site,” smdp principal Scott Sarver told us. “So we gave them big trading floors, gave them a big data center for their computers, and then conventional offices [above].”

That’s right — this was  originally designed to be the Chicago headquarters of energy giant BP.  You can even see in the rendering a BP sun logo near the apex of the building.  However, BP eventually decided to move into the CME Center (20 South Wacker Drive) instead of going with its own tower, which is how this great design ended up mothballed.

Now our friends at Fifield are at the helm of this project, and according to Crain’s, eager to get this party started.  Crain’s throws water on the party, though.  Its math shows that there is way more office space available in downtown Chicago than there is demand.  But Fifield disagrees, believing that there are marquee tenants looking for marquee buildings.  We’ve heard similar things. Sure there’s plenty of average office space, but not much showcase space; and with the recent influx of suburban corporations moving into downtown Chicago, Fifield may just be on to something.  This is, after all, a showcase building.



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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