Ready or Not, Here Comes Wolf Point West

Wolf Point West

Wolf Point West

The first of three new skyscrapers planned for Wolf Point is just two weeks away from opening its doors to new residents.  Wolf Point West (343 West Wolf Point Plaza) is probably the most anticipated and visible residential tower to go up in downtown Chicago since Trump Tower.  With that in mind, we talked with Thomas Kerwin, principal at bKL Architecture about building his company designed.

Editor: Getting to work on Wolf Point is quite an achievement. Do you feel relived that it’s almost done?

Thomas Kerwin: I am very pleased with the building thus far, and particularly the skin. We made a commitment when we stood up in some of the pubic meetings that we would pay a lot of attention to detailing of the building and the quality of the exterior wall and skin, given its prominent site. Some of these residential buildings are challenged that way. Budgets often get slashed, and the skin and exterior walls often suffer. So I’m pleased that we were able to maintain a high quality skin and we’re pleased with how it’s coming out visually. So I do have sense of relief in that regard. The building’s not finished, so we’re still sweating the details.

Thomas Kerwin in front of Wolf Point West

Thomas Kerwin in front of Wolf Point West

Editor: Does it feel good that no matter what happens with the rest of Wolf Point, your portion is done?

Kerwin: We were fortunate to design the first building. It’s the smallest of the three, but it’s the first to be built, so it does feel good.

Editor: Since it’s immediately next to the planned Pelli Clarke Pelli building, was there any interaction between the two firms, or were each of these buildings designed in a vacuum?

Kerwin: Well, Pelli Clarke Pelli did the master plan for the whole project, so they set where the towers would be placed. But in terms of the design of the building, we did the design. But we did keep them involved in terms of understanding how our two buildings are going to relate.

I think the biggest challenge of the site was that there was [pre-existing] conditions. When the Kennedys sold the Merchandise Mart and the Apparel Mart [now River North Point] and retained the [undeveloped] land where Wolf Point is there was a provision made that future development could only block a certain portion of the views out of the Apparel Mart. So there were certain widths that we had to hold to. So, our building is 70 feet in width, which is a good dimension for a residential building; but it’s somewhat narrow. Especially when you introduce balconies and things. So the building is kind of narrow and it is long. And that really is a function of keeping that view corridor as open as possible.

What’s great about it is that it creates this really tall, slender profile looking from south to north. To further accentuate that, we broke the building down into three planes so that even with that narrow profile, it becomes even more slender, more elegant.  But in terms of how Wolf Point West relates [to Wolf Point South], clearly the site is set up to allow the south tower to be the most prominent tower. It’s on the prow of the site. It’s the tallest. So I think one of the things we tried to do is to adapt materials and sensibility so that the project is respectful and works well with this future, larger tower.

Editor: It’s got to be exciting to work on one of three skyscrapers going up across from each other, transforming that corner of the city.

Kerwin: It’s fabulous. That convergence of the three branches [of the Chicago River] is so well known as the Genesis of the growth of Chicago. It sat vacant for so long for various reasons, and the fact that we get to be part of the teams that are building around it is pretty rewarding. Me and my team feel incredibly fortunate to be working there. We put our hearts and souls into it.

Location: 343 West Wolf Point Plaza, River North

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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