Another Skyscraper to Sprout in Streeterville This Month

It’s been several months since Northwestern University held its official and very elaborate groundbreaking ceremony for the Louis A. Simpson & Kimberly K. Querrey Biomedical Research Center at 333 East Superior Street. If you’re preservation-minded, you may remember this as the skyscraper that killed Bertrand Goldberg’s beloved Prentice Womens’ Hospital.  If you’re not preservation-minded, you may remember this as the skyscraper that put Prentice out of our misery.

Drawing of Northwestern Biomedical Research Tower

Drawing of Northwestern Biomedical Research Tower, courtesy of Northwestern University

Either way, construction on the $50 million, Perkins+Will-designed, Prentice-replacing Simpson-Querrey tower will begin this month, according to a very official Northwestern University document being circulated by neighborhood geriatric gadfly group S.O.A.R.

It’s a non-binding document outlining the construction timeline for the tower in very rough terms.  But for skyscraper nerds, it’s a beggar’s banquet of tasty news-flavored morsels of information.  To wit:

  • September –October 2015: Site work will begin with the underpinning and reinforcing of Northwestern University’s existing Superior Street Utility Tunnel. This work will require removal of an existing basement wall along Superior Street in sections so that small diameter (6”) ‘pin’ foundations can be drilled to support the south side of existing tunnel. We expect this to have minimal noise and vibration impact and to be completed by mid-October 2015.
  • September 2015- December 2015: We will begin caisson installation. We expect this will have a significant noise and vibration impact to surrounding Northwestern University buildings. Over 120 caissons will need to be drilled, more than half of which will have 5’ diameter shafts or larger down to 100’ below grade.

“Foundations.”  “Below grade.”  “Utility tunnel.”  It’s like Pavlov’s dinner bell for the sort of person who would name his French bulldog Caisson.

Well, grab the Bromo-Seltzer, Archie, because this smorgasbord has only just begun. The document continues:

  • November 2015-March 2016: We will begin to install earth retention sheeting on three sides of the site. Earth retention is a sheet pile system which is driven by a vibratory mechanism. As with the caisson installation, we expect this activity could have significant impact to the surrounding Northwestern University buildings from a noise and vibration standpoint as construction workers will be required to push/vibrate 70’ long corrugated metal sheets that have 30” webs into the ground.
  • March 2016-July 2016: We will begin the deep excavations and bracing along the east side of the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center. We expect noise and vibration will be generated as we remove the existing steel sheeting and lean concrete backfill along the east side of Lurie. We will also be removing the existing caissons as we excavate.
  • August 2016-March 2018: Tower crane(s) will be installed and utilized for the erection of the underground construction and the above ground steel structural framing and exterior building enclosure.
  • August 2016: We anticipate that construction will be at the bottom of the excavation. At this point, we anticipate the majority of the heavy vibration and noise to be complete. From August 2016 moving forward, ‘normal’ construction activities will proceed until the end of 2018 when the project is anticipated to be complete. We expect general levels of construction noise and vibration to be relatively less than the demolition process the previous year.
  • September 2016: In preparation for the start of overhead construction, the construction barriers and construction fencing will be reconfigured and expanded on Superior and Huron Streets to provide overhead protective canopies. These barriers will continue to close the existing sidewalks and will provide east-west pedestrian access on both Superior and Huron Streets via the curb lanes which will be protected from traffic with concrete jersey barricades. Note, this pedestrian access will be ADA accessible and will be lit maintained during winter months to allow pedestrian movement.
  • Winter 2018: Construction barriers will be removed to complete the site, street and landscaping work preparation for the opening of the building.

Did you notice the date for all this to start?  September.  That’s yesterday!

So if you’re still mourning the loss of the bulbous concrete bellies of Bertrand’s building, it’s officially time to get over it and welcome the new tower coming down the pike with its somewhat less bulbous curves along the lakeshore.

Location: 333 East Superior Street, Streeterville

Author: Editor

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

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