If you’re a tech nerd of a certain age, you may remember something called the squircle. It’s a combination of a circle and a square, and also the infamous input device on Microsoft’s failed Zune music player.
Well, the squircle is back, this time taking the form of a skyscraper known as 151 North Franklin. Even the building’s brochure is die-cut in the shape of a squircle.
The John Buck Company project was paraded out in the architectural equivalent of a cotillion last night, and though it is neither daring, nor particularly innovative, it seemed acceptable to the audience. An audience that was made up of 98% real estate lawyers and two percent skyscraper nerds.
151 is a 36-story glass box with the edges rounded off, forming a vertical extrusion of the previously mentioned squircle. At the base, an area just short of the lobby is carved away to form a sheltered plaza underneath the building’s overhang. Coincidentally, 151’s sister building next door at 155 North Wacker also has an overhang. Because of changes to Wacker Drive by CDOT, 155 overhangs the Wacker Drive sidewalk by a few feet.
Architect John Ronan envisions the overhang at 151 as a public space, with large trees, and wireless networking— a place where office workers can have impromptu brainstorming sessions and social events. “It conceptualizes an urban, outdoor room that gives something back to the city,” he says. Replicating the success of a similar space at One South Dearborn seems unlikely, however. As noted by one local resident last night, it is more likely that the rain-sheltered space will become an enormous smoking lounge, as the building, itself, is a smoke-free zone.
These days you can’t have a building in Chicago without a podium, even in one that touts its transit-friendliness as much as this one. That’s because even though it is just steps away from seven CTA L lines, nine Metra lines, 18 Amtrak lines, dozens of CTA bus lines, and a water taxi, public transportation remains for the “little people” in the minds of certain decision-makers in Chicago who don’t understand that if they were really as important as they think they are, they’d have limo service. Still, these people are often influential in deciding what building a company will move into, so there are 34 spaces tucked below grade and set aside for the mid-range BMWs and low-end Mercedes of the chronically self-absorbed.
The good news is that on top of the podium is a public park space, with tree planters and tables and chairs. Dominic Adducci, a lawyer for the John Buck Company, pledges, “Anyone can come here off the street and enjoy the space.” Though Adducci and Ronan kept using the word “public,” this will not be truly public space, and access will be subject to the whims of the building management.
A few blocks away at 555 West Monroe Street there is another building with a supposedly “public” park on its podium, but virtually nobody knows about it. If you go there right now, it’s closed. This public amenity is almost always closed to the public. It’s only open a few hours a day, a few days a week, three months a year. It would not be surprising if, a few building managers down the road, 151 North Franklin ends up the same way, as there is no incentive to maintain the public access, and there is a cost savings to be had.
In terms of stature, Adducci characterizes 151’s height as “very appropriate” for the neighborhood. Indeed, its 36-story height is neither outsized, nor undersized compared to neighboring buildings. A slide shown last night indicated that the building would be 600 feet tall, but that seems unlikely. At 600 feet, it would be the equivalent of a 60-story building. The building’s printed brochure pegs it at 443 feet tall, but the brochure also only lists the building as 32-stories tall. We’ll see what paperwork gets filed with the city before we start making any official statements about its height.
Though the building is not visually striking, it is an interesting building in that it is an example of the evolution of the modern office building. For decades, skyscrapers were designed to maximize the number of corner offices for the various levels of managers that once existed in a contemporary company. Today, it’s all about light and collaboration and open space. In the 90’s, the most attractive buildings had the most corner offices. Today, the most attractive buildings are those with the most natural light flooding their collaboration spaces and think zones. Instead of carving people up into cloistered groups, offices are designed to be deliberately challenging to navigate so that different people meet and interact. These chance meetings, it is hoped, will lead to collaboration and innovation.
Those sorts of chance meetings are also fostered on the building’s roof, where the southwest corner will have a landscaped outdoor space for tenants to relax, recharge, and meet. It’s similar to the public space down on the second floor, but only for people who work in the building, offering a small element of privacy. After all, it’s not unheard of for some mid-level manager to sit in a Starbucks bragging to his friends about the new building his company is working on, and have that entire conversation listened to by some Chicago architecture blogger at the next table.
The John Buck Company seems to be really embracing this modern work style with 151. Not that long ago, developers did everything they could to cram as many floors as they could into a little space as possible. Buck is going the opposite direction, deliberately raising ceiling heights from nine feet to ten feet in order to let natural light more deeply penetrate the office. Not only does that save on HVAC costs, it makes the office space more attractive to potential lessees in a dot-com world.
So, what’s not to love about 151 North Franklin? Very little, really. It’s a nice building, with modern facilities and current sensibilities that will turn a surface parking lot and a half-empty two-story building into something much more useful and vibrant.
The only downside is the imminent demolition of Eat and Drink, the dive Chinese restaurant lurking in a corner of the parking lot. The joint is such a dive that other dives don’t like it being called that. But the food is so good that you almost don’t notice that the shack it’s in leans worryingly to the northwest, and that if you’re not careful where you stand, you might plunge through a carpet-covered hole in the floor. Yes, Eat and Drink will be missed, as the only east coast-style Chinese food joint in downtown Chicago. But that’s just the way the fortune cookie crumbles.
- Developer: The John Buck Company
- Design architect:
- Design architecture firm:
- Architect of record: Adamson Associates
- Construction manager: Lend Lease
- Size: 825,000 square feet
- Height: 600 feet (maybe)
- Floors: 36 (no 13th floor)
- Parking: 34 spaces, all below grade
- Retail space: Up to 10,000 square feet
- Aiming for LEED Gold
- Green roof alert!
- Public park space: 2nd floor podium roof, 40 feet wide
- Anticipated demolition of existing structures: July, 2014
- Anticipated construction start: September, 2014
- Anticipated construction completion: September, 2016
- No public money involved