At Long Last, OneEleven West Wacker Gets Its Coming Out Party

Architect Gary Handel in front of OneEleven West Wacker

Architect Gary Handel in front of OneEleven West Wacker

The transformation of OneEleven West Wacker from ugly duckling to elegant swan is now complete.

OneEleven West Wacker ExteriorRelated Midwest threw a coming out party for its 60-story residential tower on Wednesday night.  Business is already booming for the gleaming new Loop property, in a bull rental market.

In fact, OneEleven has already hit the 50 percent leased milestone just six weeks after opening its doors. That speaks to the demand for rental units in this prime spot along the river. Rates begin at $2,195 per month, but that’s about the same starting point as new West Loop rentals. If you work in the Loop and hang out in River North, it’s hard to beat the location.

How the building went from abandoned hulk to its current state is a Cinderella story in itself. Related took the partially-built Waterview Tower (built in 2008) and basically put a new top on it. It’s not exactly that simple, though.

Fortunately, Related selected one of the best in the business at converting properties like this. New York-based architect Gary Handel won the competition to turn Waterview into an entirely new project.

Handel, president of Handel Architects, has a pretty good track record, working on renovation projects like the new stock exchange building in the Phillipines, the Capitol Records complex in L.A., and the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown. The latter was built using an existing building that was very non-Ritzy: an old incinerator.

“It was actually in much worse shape than this building,” Handel said. “We turned the burning pit into a lobby and restaurant with a campus around it. It was actually a wonderful piece of industrial sculpture.”

Architect Gary Handel

Architect Gary Handel

Handel clearly sees potential where others might cringe and figure something is a lost cause.

“We like the challenge of dealing with existing conditions—it’s nothing we’re afraid of,” he said. “We love cities. Cities are about responding to an already-built condition, and moving forward. I’m not even sure I’d know what to do with a blank slate.”

For OneEleven West Wacker, Handel immediately knew the Chicago River would influence the design.

“It’s one of the most poetic spaces in America,” he said. “I understand the importance of the river to Chicago, and the history of the site. When I first walked in to what is now the lobby, I could tell the scale of this place was incredible, so any feeling that I had that it was a difficult challenge was overwhelmed by the sense of possibility of what we could do.”

That’s not to say there weren’t complications, like super-columns tucked into the existing structure. Handel just worked with what he had, and determined that he could augment the shape and bring the tower closer to the river. He helped integrate the base and the tower and created dramatic views from above.

It allowed him to preserve what was already built.

“We found a way to use the existing elevator holes. We did a calculation and determined that we kept almost 40,000 cubic yards of concrete from going to a landfill. We repurposed the base for parking and came up with a way to break the new with a gesture we call “the river,” which runs continuously all the way around the building. It gives the building its architectural signature.”

Location: 111 West Wacker Drive, The Loop

 

 

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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