Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Wanda Vista Tower

Wanda Vista Tower rendering courtesy of Studio Gang

Wanda Vista Tower rendering courtesy of Studio Gang

Where do we even begin with this one?

The Wanda Vista Tower is official.  Not that the 1,151-foot-tall supertower planned for 381 East Wacker Drive wasn’t official when Wang Jianlin, the richest man in China, ballyhooed her into existence almost a year ago.  Or when 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly held a public meeting about her two months ago.  But the kind of official we like — in black and white paperwork, stacked high, in triplicate, snugly tucked inside Chicago City Hall.  No staples, please.

Wanda Vista Tower rendering courtesy of Studio Gang

There she is — All tall and curvy. Just the way we like our Wandas.

The developers of the Wanda Vista Tower have finally, officially, and for realsies filed the raft of documents required to turn Mr. Wang’s American real estate dreams into a glittering glass beachhead on the shores of the nation’s third coast.

The Wanda Vista Tower is big and complicated.  And so is her paperwork.  So a lot of what we’re going to tell you is best distilled into lists.  Some of it won’t make it into this article, but will be in follow-up stories in the near future.  So hang with us.  There’s a lot to digest.

First off, you’ve seen the Wanda design already.  It hasn’t changed much.  Four siamese towers in vaguely trapezoidal shapes like stacked lo-mein take-out containers.  If you’re a fan of Taipei 101, this will look somewhat familiar, except that Wanda’s boxes are alternated end-to-end instead of being arranged like incorrectly stored Tupperware.  While Wanda won’t approach Taipei 101’s maximum height of 1,671 feet, she’s no slouch. Here’s how she shapes up:

  • Maximum height: 1,151 feet
  • Hight to highest occupied floor: 1,124 feet
  • Segment One (eastermost) maximum height: 200 feet / 11th floor
  • Segment Two maximum height: 593 feet / 49th floor
  • Segment Three maximum height: 857 feet / 71st floor
  • Segment Four (westernmost) maximum height: 1,151 feet

Heights are measured from LL5, which is the lowest floor available in any building in Lakeshore East.  Level 1 is at East Upper Wacker Drive.  If you choose to measure the building’s height from there, then subtract 57 feet.

This brings up the point of infrastructure.  The Wanda Vista Tower means a lot of new infrastructure will be built in Lakeshore East.  Some of it directly related to the tower.  Some of it not related at all, except in the kind of horse trading that goes on to get skyscrapers approved in Chicago.  Let’s just say that some long-overdue promises may finally be kept. More on that in a follow-up story.

One of the big infrastructure changes is the creation of a new street.  It’s called North Upper Field Boulevard, and will run for one block southward from East Upper Wacker Drive and connect to an extended East Upper Waterside Drive.  More on that in a moment.

Wanda Vista Tower rendering courtesy of Studio Gang

Wanda Vista Tower rendering courtesy of Studio Gang

North Upper Field Boulevard runs directly beneath Wanda Vista tower segment three, and is an important part of the project’s pedestrian and traffic flow.  You may remember seeing this in the Studio Gang rendering we published earlier this year, which is also shown above.  In real life, Chicago streets aren’t paved with shiny glass like Studio Gang imagines.  They’re paved with potholes and asphalt patches.  But Gang’s vision for the road connecting Wacker Drive to Waterside Drive is correct, and it finally completes a road loop that some people have waited decades for.

Wanda Vista Tower diagram courtesy of Studio Gang

Wanda Vista Tower diagram courtesy of Studio Gang

Those of you who have never lived in Lakeshore East might not know that there are five residential skyscrapers that are almost completely cut off from the city’s street grid.  Thousands of people live on a dead-end cul-de-sac formed by North Harbor and East Waterside Drives.  The only way in and out of their neighborhood is a very tedious loop down to East Randolph Street.  Now they will finally have a second option, and one that gives them much more efficient access to the north side of the city.  This is something that people have moaned about since the Reagan administration.

As a point of interest, the clearance to the underbelly of Wanda segment three will be 19 feet.

This is also bad news for residents of The Shoreham (400 East South Water Street).  Since it was built in 2005, the back side of The Shoreham has been something of a non-road.  It’s really been a proto-road, half turned into a garden with planters, and a gathering place for like-minded smokers.  This is going away.  The creation of North Upper Field Boulevard necessitates the extension of East Waterside Drive, so this little oasis is going to disappear.

Linking the two roads will not only vastly improve vehicular circulation in the neighborhood, but it will also provide pedestrian access to Wacker Drive for half of the buildings in the New Eastside, including The Shoreham, The Tides, GEMS Academy, The Regatta, The Lancaster, The Chandler, North Harbor Tower, Harbor Point Tower, and 175 North Harbor Tower.

This tower is meant to shine.  And it’s trying really hard to do so.  So hard that it will incorporate not one… not two… not three… but seven shades of glass, and two types of stainless steel.  The glass will be applied to each tower segment in horizontal bands, to enhance the illusion that the building is actually wavy without making it actually too wavy.  Insert your own pithy comment about homage to Lake Michigan and the Chicago River here.  The glass is six shades of blue-green Solarban from friends-of-the-blog PPG, and one shade of gray Solarcool.  One shade of blue is called “Solexia.”  It is described by PPG as “a soothing, light-green glass that is part of the Oceans of Color collection.” The glass will be arranged in bands from darkest to lightest and back again in this pattern:

  • Solarban 70xl on Starfire
  • Solarban 70xl on Atlantica
  • Solarban 60 on Atlantics
  • Solarban 60 on Solexia
  • Solarban 60 on clear
  • Solarban 60 on Starfire

Brushed stainless steel and polished stainless steel will be used along with Solarban 70xl on Starfire on the bottom levels.  Solarcool on gray glass will be used on levels below Upper Wacker.

While Wanda Vista is certainly the most high-profile skyscraper plan currently floating around Chicago City Hall, don’t look for quick approval.  It’s not on today’s Chicago Plan Commission agenda.  The next opportunity where we can hope for approval is July 16th.  Keep your fingers crossed until then.

What?  That wasn’t enough information about the Wanda Vista Tower?  OK, open wide.  Here’s the firehose:

  • Wanda Vista gets the air rights starting at 21 feet above what is now being called North Lower Field Boulevard (formerly just North Field Boulevard)
  • Site length: 351 feet long
  • Site width: 185 feet, 5 inches wide on the west side, narrowing to 151 feet, 3 inches on the east side
  • Two loading docks on East Lower Wacker Drive, one on either side of North Lower Field Boulevard
  • Public parking access at the extreme east end of the site, off of East Lower Wacker Drive
  • New medians and turning lanes on East Lower Wacker Drive to control the flow of traffic to and from the hotel, Lakeshore East, and the city’s impound lot
  • North Upper Field Boulevard will be created, above Field Boulevard, under the Wanda Vista arch
  • Parking garage entrance on west side of North Upper Field Boulevard
  • Parking garage exit on newly extended East Waterside Drive
  • Segment One (easternmost) roof: Shared hotel/residence amenity deck
  • Segment Two roof: Residence-only amenity deck
  • Segment Three roof: Northern part is an outdoor terrace; southern part is private duplex terraces
  • Segment Four (westernmost) roof: Mechanical
  • Green roof alert: Estimated 25% coverage
Location: 381 East Wacker Drive, The Loop

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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