Why Hubbard Place Looks The Way It Does

A model of Hubbard Place and nine runners up that didn't make the cut.

A model of Hubbard Place and nine runners up that didn’t make the cut.

Last month we took you on a tour inside the skyscraper going up in River North known as Hubbard Place.

Recently we sat down with John Lahey, C.E.O. of Solomon Cordwell Buenz, the Chicago architecture firm that designed the building to learn more about its planning.

Editor: Hubbard Place is the southern bookend of this development, which has been slowly coming together since the 70’s. Kingsbury Plaza (520 North Kingsbury Street) is the other bookend. Hubbard is similar, but not a twin.

Drawing of Hubbard Place, courtesy of The Habitat Company.

Drawing of Hubbard Place, courtesy of The Habitat Company.

Lahey: It was time for phase two, and they wanted something less geometric than Kingsbury. That had really gone over well, and Habitat [Company] was very pleased with the response. People liked it, and people liked renting there. The building has a softer image than some of the boxier things that are going on.

For the next one, it’s a different site and it’s got different views and so we worked on a variety of different schemes. There was always this sort of geometry because of Kingsbury not being on the city grid.

Then the idea of a curved middle came up and the idea of these bays. We were talking with Dan [Levin, chairman of Habitat Company], and we said, “Think of a building that you’ve seen in the last few years where you’ve stopped and said to yourself, ‘Boy, that’s really interesting.'” And his answer was some 60’s building in Paris. We found it. And it did this thing where the building was divided into parts vertically. It wasn’t residential, but we thought it was an interesting thing. We have these bays, and then we interrupt them, rather than have the building being extruded as so many of them are.

It’s not a box. And it’s not a box in many ways. It’s not a box because it’s a parallelogram of the site. It’s not a box because it’s got this curved element, and these two engaged forms.

Editor: A lot of people are very happy it’s not a box.

Lahey: And I’m happy it’s not a box. So many buildings these days are extruded — they’re the same all the way up. And this one, by breaking up those balconies, it breaks it into neighborhoods. And then there’s some units that just have a flat window and have no balcony, and they might be simpler units. And we thought those three moves – the curved piece responding Kingsbury, but being more elegant and even a stronger form and purer form; and then the grid’s kind of holding it, kind of like holding a jewel; and then the bay is not extruded, it’s these three parts breaking it down in scale.

And then you can see there is a kind of a dialog between the two buildings, which is interesting. And yet, they’re not the same color. They have similar glass, but they’re different in a lot of ways, but you do see that they’re related.

Editor: Quite literally, at their core, they’re the same.

Hubbard Place model

Hubbard Place model

Lahey: Yes. The center piece is this curved ellipse. It was an interesting process to get there.

And then later, just to accentuate the parts, we’re using some orange color on the bottom of the bays. Not a lot. Just a few touches here and there, and we though that gave it another element of life, and make it not so serious. And it’s just paint. It could be some other color in five years.

Editor: So, the frame holding, as you say the jewel in the center, that give you all the floor space that you didn’t have at Kingsbury.

Lahey: If you look at the floor plan, it’s a pretty darned simple building. The ends are sculpted. And the bays are arranged so that when you sit on your couch, you’re looking out the bay window. It just works really nicely as a plan.

The bays were something that appealed to people on Kingsbury, and we went further with Hubbard Place.

We took another client, a guy from Denver, we took him through Kingsbury and he went, “This is so great, that you’re not in just another shoebox with a window at the end.” It’s like the difference between watching TV and being in the real world. Because when it curves, the light comes in and bounces off the floor more often, and you just feel like you see more of a three-dimensional view.

This was a real team effort with Habitat. They were very active, suggesting designs and things, and we worked together.

Everybody’s got a corner unit. And these [studios] are 543 square feet, and they’re small units. But they still have the kitchen and a nook for the bed and they’re pretty interesting.

Editor: And there are some people who don’t care about the size, they’re about the location or some other feature.

Ninth floor outdoor area under construction

Ninth floor outdoor area under construction

Lahey: The amenities are amazing. That roof deck is really going to be very nice, and it’s going to have a club atmosphere. You don’t have to join a club if you live here because the whole floor is devoted to amenities, and the roof deck is almost 17,000 square feet. And it has a lawn, and a pool area, and places to barbecue, and places to socialize with friends. You get together with a small group and you can spend time out there, each one discrete from the other.

Editor: But it’s really just a symbolic pool. It’s not a real pool. It’s a plunge pool.

Lahey: All of them are three-foot-six these days, because they don’t want anybody diving.

Editor: Chicago skyscrapers used to have massive pools, but not anymore. Is that a city code, or is it economics?

Lahey: It’s liability. If somebody dives in and cracks their head…

[awkward silence…]

Editor: So, the orientation of Hubbard Place was important.

Two models of Hubbard Place flanking a model of 215 West Washington

Two models of Hubbard Place flanking a model of 215 West Washington

Lahey: With this one, we’re tilting the building to the southwest, so you do have views of the skyline down Wacker Drive. And you’re looking down the river, too. And then the other side is looking back towards the cityscape – Hancock, North Michigan Avenue, and all that. You can even see River East and Streeterville.

It is kind of interesting how the two buildings form their own grid inside of the city grid. The two buildings are at 90-degrees to each other, and form a little corner.

Editor: These towers were originally approved back in the 70’s. Did you have any legacy issued to deal with, like the 55-foot restriction to make space for the Central Area subway tunnel the CTA was going to build under Kingsbury Street?

Lahey: Not so much. The Plan Developments back then were written pretty vaguely. We went through the alderman and were careful to have community hearings. There was a good amount of public information out there. But I think in the end we have more open space than is required on this site, because of that green space in front.

So many buildings struggle with an over-urban entrance, whereas this one is more like the Streeters [The Streeter and Streeter Place]. The two Streeters, when we did that, it was kind of hard-edged around there. Then we did those buildings and had that little lane go through with a lot of landscaping, and it really softens that whole area. I think it’s a really nice neighborhood get-together place.

This one’s not going to have that kind of retail, but it is going to provide green. That area is kind of hard-edged and paved, and I think having that green space there is going to seem like such a lift with the fountains and sculpture, it’s really going to make it seem civic, like town square.

Solomon Cordwell Buenz C.E.O. John Lahey

Solomon Cordwell Buenz C.E.O. John Lahey

Editor: Because it’s still a very industrial feel in River North. Even though there’s people, they’re living and working in old factory buildings and warehouses.

Lahey: And there’s a lot of traffic there. But some of the retail in the area, like the stores in the bottom of that office building adjacent to the site, will get a real lift from having all the people in Hubbard Place.

Editor: Was there a reason you chose three groups for the bays?

Lahey: Compositionally, it just looked right. Four was chopped up too much. Just one in the middle wasn’t enough. We studied it quite a bit.

Editor: Is this the direction you see River North going in the future — More of these residential, glass towers?

Lahey: I don’t see this as part of a trend in the area. I see this as this one thing. We’re not working on too much else in River North.

Editor: You recently completed 500 Lake Shore Drive in Streeterville, and it’s a great building.

500 Lake Shore Drive

500 Lake Shore Drive

Lahey: They [Related Midwest] wanted a very simple building. They wanted a rectangular building. When we designed 500, we suggested turning it so the views were north-south, rather than east-west. We pulled the building back from [East Grand Avenue] because it was hard-edged [coming off of the Lake Shore Drive exit ramp] and we wanted to get some green ahead of it so soften this thing. Consequently, 500 is offset enough [from 530 North Lake Shore Drive] that you will always get a view out. You might be looking out at an angle, but you’ll have something. We showed them that even from the back unit of 500, you have a view of the lake.

It’s influenced by things going on in New York quite a bit. We did look at things that were happening there because Related is a New York company.

The amenity space at Hubbard Place is going to be equal to that of [500 North Lake Shore Drive.] It will have a level of quality that’s going to be the same. It’s probably a little more relaxed, and a little less New York. Hubbard Place is not so rigid. But it’s got the same amount of amenities. In fact, the roof deck on [Hubbard Place] is about 50% larger than the one at 500. And while we have 30-feet of setback at 500, we have a lot more than 30 feet at Hubbard Place. I think we have about 150 feet.

Editor: And it helps that the East Bank Club isn’t going to object to whatever you do.

Lahey: Same owner. That’s another thing about people with the west view — they’re looking at the East Bank Club, which is one of the most people-watching things in the entire city.

I think 500 has set a new standard, and we’re very proud of it. This one is a little more Chicago. Habitat is a company that’s definitely tuned in to Chicago.


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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