Skip to main content

Industry News

02 Mar 2024

It takes two to make a thing go right: Construction starts on a pair of towers at old Chicago Spire site

It takes two to make a thing go right: Construction starts on a pair of towers at old Chicago Spire site
A rendering of the two towers called 400 Lake Shore Drive.

The end is here for the infamous manmade crater at Lake Shore Drive and Grand Avenue.

The twisting, 2,000-foot tall Chicago Spire was supposed to grow from this 75-foot deep hole. But the project fell through 15 years ago, and that sunken place has just sat there ever since, attracting rainwater and curiosity seekers.

But no more. Teams of cement trucks last week swarmed the site as workers poured a new mat foundation inside the hole — formally called a cofferdam — for what will be the first of two towers planned for the location.

An urban curiosity is lost. But the city stands to gain something far better in return: a pair of tapering, faceted towers, called 400 Lake Shore Drive, designed by architecture firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill that holds the promise of finally delivering the come-up the historic 3-acre parcel has always deserved.

"The history of the site is kind of mythical," said SOM Design partner Scott Duncan, the architect in charge of the project. "So many people ... when I talk about the site ... say, 'Oh, that's where the hole is.' [But it's] a symbolic place — maybe the literal place of the city's founding."

‘Not curving, not twisting’

The Streeterville site is indeed rich with history. The land is part of what was once the residential compound and trading post built in the late 1770s by Haitian-born Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable.

Du Sable's establishment made him the first non-Native businessperson to recognize the city's commercial potential — and laid the roots of what would eventually become the city of Chicago.

Construction on 400 Lake Shore Drive has begun with the northernmost tower, which at 72 stories high and 858 feet tall will be the taller of the two buildings. The 60-story south tower would come along in the project's second phase, however.

Related Midwest, the company developing the site, and SOM examined a single-tower scheme, as the Santiago Calatrava-designed Chicago Spire would have been, and also a trio of high rises before settling on two buildings.

Separated by 75 feet, the towers resemble a gateway, which is good. The approach also allows the team to check economic and market conditions before committing to the second building.

The project spares us from the big, bluish, glassy rectangular towers that have come to predominate the central area these days. And the facades step back as the buildings rise.

The towers are broad, going from east to west, but they turn a thin profile toward the lake — a nice design gesture, especially given the buildings get wider the higher up you go. The lake-facing facade of the north tower, for instance, will be only 45 feet wide at the base and 95 feet across at the top.

"It's not curving, it's not twisting, it's simply a matter of sculpting the base geometry in a careful way," Duncan said of the buildings' form. "And I am quite proud that we've gotten to where we are today."

Also noteworthy is the broad north and south sides of the buildings are not flat but are bay windows inspired by — but not mimicking — those found on classic Chicago skyscrapers.

"This building kind of has two faces," said Ann Thompson, executive vice president of architecture and design at Related Midwest, the company developing the site.

In addition, the towers won't be parallel with each other but angled, Thompson said.

"So it allows them to sort of read architecturally as a pair of towers but allows the view corridors to slip past one another," she said.

No Spire, but still a worthy addition

Right now, I'll say here what I'm sure some of you are thinking: 400 Lake Shore Drive is not the swaggering, good-golly Miss Molly, let's-all-pile-in-the-car-and-see-this-thing show-stopper the Chicago Spire might have been.

And the project would look like an unfinished haircut if some future shift in market forces were to put the kibosh on the second building's construction.

But if the development is built as envisioned — especially if it's paired with the planned Du Sable Park across Lake Shore Drive, designed by architects Carol Ross Barney and RaMona Westbrook — it will be a unique and well thought-out solution worthy of its historic location and its place in the city's vaunted skyline.

Find out more at Chicago Suns Times

View all Industry News