Two architecture firms located just blocks away from each other in downtown New Haven have bumped into each other on the banks of the Chicago River, where they’re building a series of bold, glassy towers that will form the next chapter in Windy City’s rich skyscraper history.
Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and Pickard Chilton, both housed on New Haven’s Chapel Street, have come up with three separate gravity-defying projects at the confluence of the three river branches that run through downtown Chicago, the birthplace of the skyscraper.
Pickard Chilton, a 45-person firm that spun off from Pelli Clarke Pelli 15 years ago, designed a 60-story office building called 300 North LaSalle that rose on the banks of the Chicago River two years ago. Its next skyscraper, a $400 million project called River Point, is set to rise next year over Amtrak train lines.
Meanwhile, Pelli Clarke Pelli has designed a $1 billion complex of towers called Wolf Point. The towers will be lifted 60 feet above a new, public park—a first in skyscraper history, according to design principal Fred Clarke.
Clarke declared Wolf Point “one of the most important building sites in the country right now”—because it is highly visible, undeveloped land in the center of the city. The 4-acre property has been preserved by the Joseph P. Kennedy family for years.
All three projects involve the same developer, real estate company Hines of Dallas. They are among the first major new buildings to rise in Chicago after the 2008 financial crash, according to the New York Times.
View From The Top
In an interview last week in his office next to the new Shake Shack outlet, architect Anthony Markese shared the designs for Pickard Chilton’s next tower to hit the Chicago skyline.
River Point will rise on the west bank of the Chicago River in a pie-shaped, 3-acre spot sliced through by train tracks. The city of Chicago plans to break ground soon on a 2-acre public park that will rest above the tracks, Markese said. The skyscraper is scheduled to begin to rise next year, stretching 45 to 50 stories high, with 900,000 to 1.1 million square feet of office space. The final numbers will depend on who the tenants are.
To get to the lobby from the corner of West Lake and North Canal streets, the pedestrian will have to ascend 15 feet of stairs or escalator, because the park is elevated over the tracks, Markese explained.
“Once you get to the top, you have an amazing panoramic view of the water,” he said.
A six-story proscenium arch “looks out over the park, onto the river.”
The building sits across the river from the heart of downtown Chicago and its central Loop. The glass, stainless steel and painted aluminum structure will be LEED Gold certified, a standard of green building. It’s designed to be seen “in the round,” from all sides, like a piece of sculpture, visible from miles away.
It sits not far from Pickard Chilton’s first Chicago skyscraper, 300 North LaSalle (pictured).
“With these two towers, that whole end of the city and that whole area of the city, and that whole area of the river will be really transformed,” Markese pledged.
They will be the next in a series of towers along the Chicago River that map the trajectory of architectural styles over the many years since the world’s first skyscraper rose in Chicago in 1885.
Getting the chance to add two pieces to that collection is a treat on a personal level, said Markese: He grew up in the Chicago area. As a kid in the ‘60s and ‘70s, he drew the inspiration to become an architect as he watched tall buildings shoot up around him. He saw the John Hancock Tower rise in 1969 t0 become the tallest in the world. Then he watched the Sears Tower claim that title in 1974.
The Sears Tower stood as the world’s tallest building until the Petronas Towers rose in Kuala Lumpur in 1997.
The Pelli Connections
The Petronas Towers were designed by none other than Cesar Pelli, the powerhouse at the center of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.
Markese and Jon Pickard, two of the three principals, both learned their trade from Pelli before breaking out on their own.
“We think of him as a father,” Markese said.
That father will join his “two sons” on the banks of the Chicago River in years to come.
Wolf Point, developed by Hines, the Kennedy family and the Magellan Development Group of Chicago, is a major undertaking involving three skyscrapers that will take 10 years to complete, Fred Clarke said. The largest tower will reach 60 stories and 950 feet, he said. A residential tower with 500 apartments is set to break ground as soon as this fall, he said.
In what Clarke called an “unprecedented” move, the three towers won’t sit on the ground. They’ll be propped up 60 feet in the air by columns. Passersby will be able to stroll below them in a park, he said. The central tower will be tapered at the top and bottom, which Clarke called “a graceful and contemporary way for a large building to rise from the ground and meet the sky.”
The project will make a splash on the skyline, Clarke said: “it’s a sight you can see from practically any direction in Chicago.”
“There’s really not a backside,” Clarke said. The towers “need to be handsome, they need to relate to each other very powerfully in all directions.”
The project will sit in a triangle with Pickard Chilton’s two projects, all near the grand junction of the three Chicago river branches.
Markese said the trifecta of New Haven towers will offer another example of how New Haven’s unusually high concentration of top-caliber architects is making its mark on the globe.
“We’re a small city,” he said, “but we have a big, big impact on the world.”