It was an hour before the announcement on Feb. 6 that the Chicago Spire project was back on. Chicago Architecture Foundation President and CEO Lynn Osmond’s phone rang. It was Spire developer Garrett Kelleher calling to give her the good news.
“He said, ‘I just wanted you to know because I know how excited you’ve been about this building.’ He said, ‘I’ve got the bank financing, I’ve got the partner, and we truly believe the market has come back in Chicago and there is a market for it and that we can build it.’ He was very optimistic about it.”
I spoke with Osmond last week to get her thoughts about the Spire (400 North Lake Shore Drive) and what it would mean to the city. She says it would be a game changer in transforming Chicago from a modern 20th-century city into a 21st-century city.
“I’m excited because of what this will do for the City of Chicago in terms of being an architectural icon,” Osmond said. “People will have to see it. It will really put us on the map. Economically, competing with Singapore and New York, we’ll get a lot of attention and that’s always good for the city.”
Bragging rights to having one of the world’s tallest buildings is a big deal for a city. Right now, worldwide, the Willis Tower ranks number nine on the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s list of tallest skyscrapers. The council considers any building over 1,968 feet “megatall.” Right now, only one building can lay claim to that status: the Burj Khalifa (2,716 feet) in Dubai. Five more skyscrapers being built will hit megatall status when they’re completed. All of them are overseas.
The 2,000-foot-tall Chicago Spire would easily meet the test for a megatall skyscraper. Perhaps just as important, there would be no question that Chicago would beat New York’s One World Trade Center’s puny 1,776 feet.
So, what exactly is it about a giant building that gets Chicagoans so excited? In part, the romance of the skyscraper is a draw.
“We’re the founding city for the skyscraper, where it was discovered, explored and developed, so there’s always been a romance for Chicagoans with skyscrapers,” Osmond said. “And there’s always been a tug of war between Chicago and New York about who’s the tallest.”
From an architectural perspective, the Spire also fits neatly into the cityscape, she said.
“The exciting thing in Chicago is that on the lakefront, you can see it the skyline and these buildings so well. We have this panorama that makes skyscrapers so accessible. And the way they’re laid out, you have the Hancock and the Willis, it’s more sculptural in nature. In New York and other cities, the buildings are clustered so you don’t have the entire feeling of the magnificence of the skyscraper that we have here. So you see it here and feel it.”
“Calatrava is very drawn by the human figure, so there’s some resemblance to the human figure in there,” Osmond said. “If you look at his drawings, there’s always a human element and a sensuality that is translated. It’s also very unlike the Willis Tower. The Willis is very manly and this is very feminine, very sculptural.”
A completed Spire would also provide a significant boost for tourism, Osmond said.
“It would be good for the city, not just architecturally, but it’s really branding the city,” she said. “I think it creates a really exciting brand, and with the mayor’s increased emphasis on tourism, he wants to bring in at least 50 million visitors by 2020. Well guess what, as soon as that building goes up, you’re going see a tourism surge.”