Former Chicago Spire Site Gets an Architect

Site of the Chicago Spire

Former site of the never-happened Chicago Spire. Now Michael Pfeffer’s turf.

We don’t do a lot of news about architects moving from one firm to another.  If we did, we wouldn’t have time for anything else.

But some moves are bigger than the Iron Mountain box used to transport a favorite T-square, bobblehead hula girl, and “Architects do it with models” coffee mug from one office to the next.  They signal change coming.

Michael Pfeffer, Vice President of Architecture for Related Midwest

Michael Pfeffer, Vice President of Architecture for Related Midwest

Such is the case with Michael Pfeffer.  Crain’s Chicago Business reports that he’s moved from architecture powerhouse Skidmore Owings & Merrill to development powerhouse Related Midwest.  You may remember from our previous profiles of R.M. that it likes to use in-house architects for its projects, which means that Mr. Pfeffer will report to Ann Thompson, Related’s refreshingly honest Senior Vice President of Architecture and Design and friend-of-the-blog.

More importantly — and here’s the juicy bit — Crain’s reports that Pfeffer is going to be focused specifically on the former Chicago Spire site, and the enormous chunk of feral demesne between Roosevelt Road and 16th Street.

We’ve already seen what Perkins+Will has up its sleeve for Australian megadeveloper Lend Lease’s and CIM’s own badlands just up the street.  That’s the benchmark Pfeffer will be expected to exceed on the South Side.

But on the North Side… well, he’s competing with the ghost of a Santiago Calatrava design that, while mocked by the usual crowd of small-minded naysayers who contribute nothing to the city, would have put Chicago squarely back on the global architectural map, after having our lunch eaten by China for the last decade or so.

Curt Bailey, President and Ann Thompson, Senior Vice President of Architecture and Design at Related Midwest

Curt Bailey, President and Ann Thompson, Senior Vice President of Architecture and Design at Related Midwest

On the other hand, he’s also constrained by the money that Related President and Big Kahuna Curt Bailey has to spend.

Fortunately, Mr. Baley is not only a friend-of-the-blog, he’s also apparently willing to splash out in the right places.  That means talent.  You don’t hire someone with 15 years experience designing skyscrapers for egomaniacal Chinese billionaires and then tell him to put together a nice set of lakefront townhouses.  That’s how you get your Swingline encased in Jell-O.

This is a rare opportunity for Related, for Mr. Pfeffer, and for the city of Chicago to do something memorable.  Something important.  Something that the city, in spite of its naysayers, can be proud of.  Remember that the most photographed, most beloved, and most iconic building in Dubai isn’t the 183-story Burj Khalifa.  It’s the 60-story Burj al Arab, the sail-shaped hotel on the sea that still sells more postcards than any other building in the U.A.E.


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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  1. The developers should consider a modern round tower that was proposed for the cancelled Canyon Ranch Chicago project. Chicago has an over-abundance of plain rectangular structures. A round building will work at the former Spire site. Look how nice Peachtree Center in Atlanta and GM headquarters in Detroit look. It’s time Chicago breaks the mold of square buildings and considers going round.

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    • Editor

      Hard to disagree with that, especially considering this is a trophy site. The new half-round Parker Fulton Market over on Halsted will hopefully encourage Related Midwest to give its architect the creative freedom to explore curves.

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