Developers Detail Big Big Big Plans for Lakeshore East

After weeks of anticipation, skyscraper nerds, architecture enthusiasts, and the just plain curious got the information they’ve been craving about how the development of Lakeshore East will end.  The answer: With an 875-foot-tall bang.

At a crowded public meeting at the Hyatt Regency, hosted by 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, architects and developers took the wraps off of two major projects: The final three skyscrapers planned for the vacant northeast corner of the neighborhood, and Building O.

Rendering of Tower O (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

Rendering of Tower O (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

You’ll remember Building O as a dagwood sandwich of a building proposed a few years ago to include two hotels, and residences, all sharing some common amenities.

That project is back, as a pair of towers filling the gap on North Columbus Drive between Aqua and 300 East Randolph Street.  In fact, the new Building O will share a driveway with Aqua.

The taller of the two O buildings clocks in at 55-stories tall — shorter than either of its neighbors, but nothing to sneeze at.  At one time that patch of loam was zoned for an approximately 90-story building, but some of that height was sacrificed to give the Vista Tower across the park a boost.

Building O is a project from Magellan Development (natch), and bunkmate bKL Architecture.  Building O is bKL’s second tower at Lakeshore East, after the Coast.  It also designed the widely-acclaimed GEMS World Academy, also at Lakeshore East.

But bKL’s not done yet.  Neither is Magellan.  The Hardy Boys have brought in Aussie cousin Lendlease to build out the Building I, Building J, Building K/L portion of Lakeshore East.

Rendering of Towers J and I (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

Rendering of Towers J and I (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

That’s the part in the northeast corner, where there was once going to be four good-sized towers.  Now that’s become two good-sized towers and one landmark 80-story skyscraper, marking the entrance of the Chicago River from Lake Michigan.  All three will be anchored in a park-like setting, open to the public.

The 80-story building is expected to rise to 875 feet.  Its slender form and proximity to the water will make it seem even taller to passengers gliding by on waterborne architecture cruises.

The big question now is how will this monumental edifice relate to Related Midwest’s project just across the river.  If Related can put together another 80-story tower, it will create an architectural gateway that will flood social media with photographs for the next century.  If not… then it will be the biggest missed opportunity for Chicago since the city’s silent movie industry thought talkies were a fad, and let the motion picture industry move to Hollywood.

Altogether, the four new skyscrapers coming to Lakeshore East are a huge deal, sure to keep construction crews and the boffins at bKL busy for years to come. Huge enough that it’s a little surprising that Hizzonor wasn’t there to be part of the announcement.  He seems to have no problem showing up to announce one skyscraper here and there, but it’s been since the mid-80’s that four towers were announced simultaneously in a single development.

Much to the disappointment of some in the audience, the tallest building of the four — Tower I — will be the last to be built.

Rendering of Lake Shore Drive pedestrian underpass (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

Rendering of Lake Shore Drive pedestrian underpass (Courtesy of bKL Architecture)

Also part of the project is — FINALLY — a real pedestrian connection to the lakefront.  Something that has been needed since the 1960’s.

These four skyscrapers will bring to a conclusion the multi-decade transformation of docklands and a rail yard into one of Chicago’s most vibrant neighborhoods.

Or does it?

Overheard before the meeting was Alderman Reilly hinting that there is still a possibility for a public school to be built at Lakeshore East.  This is something that was on most of the early plans for the project, but evaporated from revised diagrams in recent years as Chicago Public Schools ran out of money.

With more and more people crowding into downtown Chicago, CPS may need to toss the couch cushions for change to meet the needs of Lakeshore East and Streeterville, where parents are already not happy with the distance their children have to commute to school.

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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