Venerable Chicago architecture firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz clearly has its designs and designers focused on the South Loop these days. Its latest creation, a residential tower for 1326 South Michigan Avenue, has been getting high praise. We sat down with SCB chairman John Lahey to find out more about the building.
Editor: SCB’s already conquered Streeterville, and now you’re expanding your empire to the South Loop. Tell me about 1326 South Michigan; people are making a lot of happy noises about it.
John Lahey: That’s the interesting thing about residential buildings. They’re more viewed as parts of the city now, and not as some aggressive intruder. People are starting to view them as objects. They’re seeing the building for what it is, and not the need for familiar elements.
A building like  is a glassy building, a sculptural building. It would have been hard to do that years ago. But today, it’s OK.
And the other neat thing is that people are getting less attached to balconies. For what I do, that’s a big deal. Because they’re really not that good, and people don’t use them, and they’re expensive, and they kind of look junky. We can integrate them in and make them look good, but fewer is probably better. You look at a building like  and it doesn’t have any balconies. But it has lots of green space on the [amenities deck] like 500 Lake Shore, and it has a real “garden in the sky” feel.
Editor: Now that you’re programming for the South Loop, do you feel like you have to do things differently for a different audience?
Lahey: It is a different context, so yes, you do things a little differently. Now, could we have done a building just like 1326 in Streeterville? Yes. But you’re conscious of the context. In Streeterville there’s some park space between buildings, and you’re looking at the balance of glass and masonry. You’re trying to fit it in with what’s there. And you’re doing the same thing here, but the context is a little different. Here [in the South Loop] you’ve got a lot of blocky, heavy buildings. And even the glassy buildings don’t have much serendipity; they’re very rational. So, that’s why we did the thing with cutting the corners. Something that was a little more artful and less hard-edged.
Editor: It looks a little like the Hearst building in New York.
Lahey: Yeah, it’s funny, different people see different things in it. Hearst has that whole cage structure and the nicks in it are so much more dramatic. This one was a slab building and it really wanted to be a relatively simple building. It was pretty tall, so we divided it into two slabs, and we were thinking, “What can we do?” We tried a number of different things.
We’re delighted, because we were thinking this would be too tall, but then the one in front of it [113 East Roosevelt] turned out to be 900 feet, and that was great.