Letter from Chicago: keeping up with construction in the Windy City

Letter from Chicago: keeping up with construction in the Windy City

Chicago boasts a stellar place on the international architectural map because of its pre-eminent role in the development of modernism and the invention of the office skyscraper, something that has transformed the skylines of cities worldwide. After the most recent 2009 recession the Windy City has seen a renewed construction boom and a flurry of high rises are in the works (currently over 50 are in the pipeline).

Though many of these projects are functional as opposed to outstanding, Chicago still punches head and shoulders above many of the rest in terms of architectural literacy, innovation and sheer feats of structural and design ingenuity. Notable examples include the jaw-droppingly tapered base of 150 N Riverside and the graceful ellipses cut into the base and top of 640 North Wells, both mega commercial projects that enjoy prominent riverfront locations.

Though long neglected and even actively avoided the Chicago River has continued its gradual comeback into the life of the city. The recent completion of the 1.5 mile Riverwalk project has seen locals and visitors flock to walk, jog and spend time in its redesigned riverfront pathways and squares. The past few years has also seen the inauguration of other impressive urban public amenities such as the 606 elevated bike-pedestrian trail (Chicago’s 2.7 mile snazzy take on the High Line that is both loved but also critiqued for its effect on real estate prices in Chicago’s Northwest Side) and a series of attractive and sinuous pedestrian bridges (some yet to be completed) that connect the neighbourhood of Bronzeville to the city’s much-loved lakefront and promote the use of cycling.

Jeanne Gang's City Hyde Park apartment block completed in 2015 disrupted the Chicago block vernacular. Studio Gang are set to complete the upcoming Vista Tower in 2019. Photography

In residential terms all eyes are on Jeanne Gang’s upcoming supertall Vista Tower in Lakeshore East (completion is slated for 2019). The talented Chicagoan architect has a knack for designing buildings that are visually interesting, structurally expressive and, as odd as this may sound for a tall building, accessible and personable. Though on a completely different scale her recently completed 14-storey City Hyde Park apartment block has also added a welcome injection of inventiveness into the apartment block typology; the unique structural solution used not only creates charismatic facades filled with trapezoidal shapes but also bays, sunshades and balconies designed to enhance interaction between residents.

It’s a fact not widely known about Chicago (outside the city) that its theatre scene is second only to New York’s and a hotbed of actors testing their mettle on stage! It makes sense therefore that one of the world’s most pioneering theatre spaces should open here. Chicago Shakespeare Theater Yard theatre opened in late 2017 and is one of the most flexible theatre venues ever created. More on this, and others below.