Chicago Export
Chicago Firm Designs World’s Second-Tallest Building

Today we continue our series of reports we call “Chicago Exports.”

So much of the world’s great architecture is designed right here in Chicago by Chicagoans, but it’s not built in Chicagoland so it goes unseen by the hometown crowd. That’s why we are featuring the great works produced by Chicago architects continuing the city’s proud legacy as the birthplace of the skyscraper, and a global center of architecture.

Rendering of bKL Shenzhen tower

Rendering of bKL Shenzhen tower

Friends-of-the-Blog, bKL Architecture burst onto the local scene a few years ago with such hits as The Coast, and the GEMS Academy at Lakeshore East.  More recently, its Wolf Point West tower opened a few months ago in River North and is rapidly filling up with new residents, soon to be followed by 165 West Superior. Its first domestic office building, 200 North Michigan, has been instrumental in transforming the stretch of Michigan Avenue between Millennium Park and the Magnificent Mile.

Rendering of bKL Shenzhen tower

Rendering of bKL Shenzhen tower

While Chicago may be bKL’s bread and butter, China is its dumplings and hoisin sauce.  bKL went unusually heavy into China for a small firm, but managed to score a number of high profile commissions.  It even has a Chinese version of its logo stenciled on the windows of its offices on the ground floor of Chicago’s Aqua tower.  Principal Thomas Kerwin has been racking up frequent flyer miles between Chicago and Hong Kong for the last year and now we know why.

bKL’s next act in China, if successful, will catapult it into the ranks of firms that have designed megatowers.  Its proposal is for a skyscraper about 2,300 feet tall to act as a gateway to the central business district of Shenzhen.  bKL describes it thusly:

The plaza includes retail, civic, and institutional structures, providing the perfect opportunity to become the cultural epicenter within the new development.

The tower’s elegant form is composed of three transforming design components: the shape, the structure, and the sky gardens. All three design components ground the tower in a continuous interaction between people and nature. The tower is bold, technical, and strong, while at the same time refined, natural, and elegant.

It has a quoted height of “approximately 700m” which is 2,296 feet in American.  That would put it second only to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in the ranks of the world’s tallest buildings.  The Burj is 2,717 feet tall.  The next nearest competition is the Abraj Al Bait in Mecca at 1,972 feet.

Of course, history is fluid, and so that #2 spot actually becomes #3 if the 3,280 foot Kingdom Tower in Jedda is completed, but still comfortably ahead of the next up-and-commer, KL118 in Luala Lumpur at 2,112 feet tall.


(Reported from our temporary Tokyo bureau)

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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