If you are hooked up to our Twitter or Facebook feeds, then you were among the first people in Chicago to find out that today the Chicago Plan Commission approved the construction of a new 37-story office and medical research tower at 303 East Superior Street, the vacant lot that used to be Pentice Women’s Hospital.
After handily defeating local and national preservation groups that tried to save the old hospital, everyone and his dog expected the approval process to sail through City Hall with little opposition. Chicago Architecture Blog managing editor Mary Chmielewicz was in chambers as the vote was called, and tells us that there were a few people still interested in getting their last licks in before the rubber stamp came down.
Among the naysayers still saying nay was Gail Spreen, the president of local resident group SOAR. Her group’s beefs with the project include the skywalks, which have reached out like tentacles across her neighborhood, connecting various medical buildings. At the same time they isolate the medical community from the neighborhood in which they work; cast dark shadows on the street; and remove vital pedestrian traffic from the city’s sidewalks, which add vibrancy, deter crime, and feed local retailers.
At the same time, the building approved by the city today actually seems hostile to the whole notion of having a lively urban fabric in Streeterville. In SOAR’s opinion, the design lacks a either streetscape or a positive sidewalk experience for pedestrians. In addition, the tower is not set back as far from the pedestrian right-of-way as earlier plans.
Other Chicago residents also told the city’s Plan Commission that they found the monolithic appearance of the Perkins+Will-designed building to be unfriendly and not in keeping with the pedestrian-friendly urban design goals the city is heavily promoting elsewhere.
Officially called the Northwestern University Medical Research Center, and somehow abbreviated as MRC2, the skyscraper will rise 37-stories just one block away from Lake Michigan, meaning it will have a prominent appearance in the city’s waterfront skyline. Northwestern wants to start construction this spring, and have scientists in the labs by 2018. If that seems quick for a medical tower, you’re right. That’s because it is going to be built in two phases. Phase one is the one with the 2018 completion date. Essentially, it’s the podium with nine floors of laboratories. Construction of the office tower on top is still T.B.A., which is good news for people worried about shadows and views, and bad news for people worried that the city’s skyline isn’t growing fast enough.