Chicago Architecture Scene Will Be Busy In 2015, Reports CAF Chief

Earlier this week, the Chicago Architecture Blog spoke with Armando Chacon, president of the West Central Association Chamber of Commerce, to get some insights about the growth of the West Loop. Today, we’ll look at what the crystal ball shows for significant architectural projects citywide in the coming year.

For starters:

  • That hole in the ground at 400 North Lake Shore Drive that was to be the stratospheric new skyscraper—the Chicago Spire—could still emerge as something bold and impressive.
  • Residential development in Chicago is thriving—albeit with rentals surpassing condominium sales.
  • Office development is on the comeback, mostly on the west side but also in the Randolph-Fulton Market neighborhood of the West Loop.
  • There will be more programs and opportunities for architecture fans to experience the best the city has to offer.

These were just a few of the intriguing points offered by Lynn Osmond, CEO of the Chicago Architecture Foundation at the CAF’s member appreciation gathering last week.

Lynn Osmond, CEO of the Chicago Architecture Foundation

Lynn Osmond, CEO of the Chicago Architecture Foundation

Open House Chicago, the annual CAF event open to everyone who enjoys design from modern to classic, has been wildly successful, Osmond said.

“We now have one of the largest open house programs in North America,” she said. “We increased by over 20,000 people this year (over the 2013 total), and we had 75,000 total visitors come out. Next year, we’ll be expanding even further because we have the Biennial coming.”

The CAF is also planning a number of new programs, including one in March called Design Dialogue.

“We’ll be talking about various issues in the city,” Osmond said. “The first one will be the transformation of Chicago’s industrial past to the tech present and future.”

Also coming up will be Engineering Weekend (February 21-22) with many opportunities to learn about the field, including activities and lectures.

Once warm weather arrives, the CAF will offer new double-decker bus tours and a walking tour focusing on the 1893 World’s Fair and its impact on the city and food. (No, it wasn’t neon green relish or deep-dish pizza. Cream of Wheat and Juicy Fruit Gum appeared for the first time, as well as the current drink of choice for the discerning hipster: Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.)

Next summer will also see the CAF’s signature architecture cruises on the Chicago River six nights a week.

The Architecture Biennial (which will run from October 1, 2015, through January 3, 2016) will also offer design aficionados lots to do and see, Osmond said.

“It will be the first American Architecture Biennial. The theme is The State of the Art of Architecture,” she said. “We’ll be looking at what’s happening in the world of architecture present and future. It will basically take over the entire Cultural Center. There will also be installations in Millennium Park. CAF is the official youth education provider nationally and internationally. We’ll be developing a new exhibition here looking at architecture using the latest building material—data—for design of the future.”

What’s happening to Chicago architecture development as a whole? Adaptive reuse remains an important part of the mix.

“Adaptive reuse is like the hermit crab,” Osmond said. “It’s like an old shell being adapted with a new use.”

A number of new hoteliers will be crablike, to use her analogy (presumably, the hotel staff will not be crabby, though). They include the new 250-room Virgin Hotel (taking over the old Dearborn Bank Building at 70 East Lake Street) and a 240-room hotel at the former Chicago Athletic Association Building at 12 South Michigan Avenue being developed by John Pritzker and AJ Capital.

Residential developments are also growing, but more frequently they take the form of rental units, Osmond said.

“A lot of young people want a lifestyle that doesn’t involve a mortgage,” she said. “So we’re seeing a trend to rentals.”

Osmond pointed out the 60-story One-Eleven West Wacker apartment tower as a good example of this trend toward rentals loaded with amenities.

“The interesting thing about rental buildings is residents want a hotel experience,” she said. “It used to be that a pool was a big deal. Now you have a movie theater, chef’s kitchen, an outdoor deck, and a cyber-café.”

Regarding the 400 North Lake Shore Drive hole in the ground, Osmond said she had high hopes that developer Garrett Kelleher could have made the Spire work. When that failed, Related Midwest picked up the ball.

“They promised they’re going to do something really significant,” Osmond said. “We’re going to make sure they do just that on this great piece of land. This should be an icon for the city of Chicago and we should demand the best.”

Among controversial projects, Osmond addressed the Lucas Museum on 17 acres at the Museum Campus. A June 2015 groundbreaking is planned with Studio Gang in charge of landscaping, China’s MAD Architects handling the design, and Chicago-based VOA Associates the local designer of record.

Osmond offered some insight into the unique design MAD developed.

“I am familiar with the architect because I’m from Toronto and I know the Marilyn Monroe buildings (officially, the Absolute Towers),” she said. “What’s interesting about MAD is how they are using new technology, like Frank Gehry uses airplane technology. A friend of mine who used to work for a roofing company once said to me ‘Do you know what it’s like to put a roof on a Gehry building?’

“Well, MAD uses an emerging technology called BIM—or ‘building information modeling’—which is a new way of building and MAD is a leader in this technology. Chicago has always been a leader in innovation in buildings and this represents the future.”

Author: Bill Motchan

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

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