Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chicago to welcome transients -- It's a good thing

There's been a lot of talk among the lakefront set lately about the two new harbors the city plans to open.  The one at 31st street seems pretty straightforward.  But unless you live in the South Loop, who wants to dock at 31st Street?

The other is more interesting -- the new docking area planned south of Navy Pier called Gateway Harbor.  This area outside the Chicago River lock is envisioned as having 350 slips.  But more important than that is that 169 of those slips will be for transient vessels.

That means that, for the first time, people will be able to sail to Chicago, tie up at a transient slip, have lunch, take in a show, and then sail off back home to Michigan or the North Shore or Toronto, or Europe, or wherever they came from.  It's a fantastic idea that is long overdue.

Skippers pay for the transient slips by the hour, like you pay for parking at a parking garage.  High fuel prices notwithstanding, this could open up a whole new tourism avenue for Chicago.

Right now, the plan is to have both harbors open by 2010, but people in the know say that given the current state of the project, that goal is unrealistic.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Progress Report: The Clare at Water Tower

Every time we think this building is done, we wait a week and still work continues.  The Clare at Water Tower Place has been chugging along since 2006.  Back in the spring, construction crews put on the top -- a four-story space that looks like it's going to be part mechanical and part some kind of massive solarium.

For those of you who forget what the fugly four-story office building that used to be at this location looked like, there's a video of the demolition over at the Clare's web site.

We can't wait to see what happens at the fanciest old folks home in the Midwest.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday Trivia: The John Hancock Center

Q: What famous Hong Kong skyscraper was inspired by the design of Chicago's John Hancock Center.

A: The Bank of China Hongkong tower.

How to stick your tongue out at Michigan Avenue

The renovation of the public space in front of Michigan Plaza is complete, and the most striking change is the addition of a giant red tongue giving a raspberry to the thousands of people who walk by each day.   Sure, it looks like an awning, but its size, height, and shape don't look like it would be useful for keeping the rain off of anybody.

The rest of the plaza came out pretty good.  Though we would have liked to see more trees and greenery there are actually tables out there now!  You hardly ever see tables included in public spaces these days; especially in new construction.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Still waiting to be delighted

Is anyone delighted yet with the progress on the Mandarin Oriental Chicago?  Anyone?  Beuller?  We didn't think so.

After years of waiting, and staring at signs of promise, this is all we have to show for what was supposed to be a new showcase hotel in the heart of Michigan Avenue:

It's just an empty lot.  Not even surface parking; just a lot.  The surface parking operation that was there got kicked out in favor of... nothing.

We know these are hard times, but somehow thousands of other skyscrapers are going up in cities around the world suffering through worse economic times than Chicago.

There is a little hope, though -- there is a very swish Mandarin Oriental sales office in Two Prudential Plaza that seems to still be active.  Let's hope it's a lot busier than it looks.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Chicago losing a title?

If you've never seen it before, drink it in.  That's the pool for the residents who live in the John Hancock Center.  It's a full-sized pool on the 44th floor of the building, which puts it about 500 feet in the air.  To date, it is the world's highest pool.  But for how much longer?

With new megatowers coming online around the world almost every day it seems like a title that could be lost soon.  In Hong Kong, for example, many of the residential and hotel buildings like the MetroPark Hotel have pools of their roofs.  And while the Burj Dubai's hotel only goes up to the 39th floor, there are residences above it -- so the possibility exists that there's a pool up there somewhere.  We won't know until the joint opens next year.

Maybe the builders of the Chicago Spire can make a last-minute design change and put a little blue and wet on the roof of that building so that we can at least keep one record-setting title in the Windy City.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Progress report: The Elysian

How's that Elysian coming along?  Take a look for yourself.  The combination hotel and residential tower at the corner of Rush Street and Oak Street is really having an impact on the Gold Coast skyline.

Down below, it's starting to shape up pretty nicely, too.  Walking past, you can clearly see the area where the circular driveway will be.   That's being put in in order to reduce congestion on Rush and State streets from idling cars.  The faux-French rooflines on the lower floors are coming together nicely, and it seems like it's going to be a much nicer tower than everyone feared.

Oh, and there's a note in Women's Wear Daily that a Marc Jacobs Collection boutique will be part of the ground floor retail space.  Just in case you hadn't already heard.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Clubbing at 900! Woo!

Things could be getting a little louder at 900 North Michigan Avenue.

Labone Limited Partnership has applied for a Public Place of Amusement license with the City of Chicago.   A PPA license is required for businesses that have, "theater, live acts, live music, dancing, two or more pool tables, less than four automatic amusement devices."   Could it be planning to put in a new club on the Rush Street side of the building?  Maybe not.

Note the "live music" line in there.  Labone is the company that owns Frankie's Scaloppini, the lower-end Italian joint that opened where Tucci Bennuch used to be.   It's possible that Labone just wants to add a guitar player to Frankie's.  But then again, Potbelly has a live music and a singing girl, but doesn't have a PPA license.

The greening of 900

Have you noticed what's going on on the roof of 900 North Michigan?  It's getting a green roof.  Well, not the roof of the actual skyscraper, but on the roof of the building that's officially called the 900 North Michigan Avenue Annex.  Construction has been going on for about a month and from what we've been able to see in that time, it involved tearing up the old roof, putting in a new roof, and now finally what appears to be a lawn.

The brochures for the Residences at 900 North Michigan Avenue already tout its garden (barely visible in this photo behind Michigan Place) as the city's highest outdoor greenspace.  Of course, it will lose that title once the roof on the annex is opened.  It will be interesting to see if people who live in the building will be able to access the new garden high above Oak Street and Rush Street.  We'll let you know what we see.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tuesday Trivia: The Merchandise Mart

True of False?  The Merchandise Mart has its own ZIP code.

False.  Though many tour guides will tell you that it does, they are incorrect.  In 2008 the Merchandise Mart was forced to share its ZIP code with the surrounding neighborhood all the way up to Chicago Avenue.

Suds on the Chicago River

So, if you'll remember your beer history, Molson merged with Coors.  And then Miller announced a merger with Molson Coors to form MillerCoors.  Well, now it looks like the whole shebang could end up in Chicago.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the new company has picked Chicago for its new home and that 400 jobs will move here.  But where, exactly?  There's not enough time to build a new tower (sad), so it's scouting locations in existing properties.

The Apparel Center is said to be high on the list of candidates.  A couple of years ago that building scored the Sun-Times when it moved to make way for the Trump Tower.  Maybe we'll see another giant corporate logo hanging from the building's horrible facade.  It could only make things better.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hail to the Queen... Or not.

Here are three things that most Chicagoans don't know.

  1. The area across Lake Shore Drive from Buckingham Fountain is called Queen's Landing.
  2. It was named that when Queen Elizabeth II's yacht moored there during a visit to the city.
  3. Next year is the 50th anniversary of that event.
While city government doesn't seem prepared to mark the occasion, private groups are turning up the heat.  They'd like to see the long-desired pedestrian under- or overpass finally be built linking Buckingham Fountain with the lake.  Each year millions of confused tourists try to cross Lake Shore Drive because it simply doesn't make sense that you can't get to the water from the fountain.  Until a couple of years ago there was a pedestrian crossing, but CDOT killed it.

With the 50th anniversary of Elizabeth's visit almost here some people are hoping to revive the lakefront link plan.  There are discussions about getting a British architect to design the project, and maybe a British company to pay for it.

Now, it's already waaaay too late to get a pedestrian link to Queen's Landing built in time for the anniversary, but it's not too late to organize a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the date.  But that would need a commitment from the city to actually get the thing built.  

The city is starting or completing a number of projects linking lakefront parks with the actual lake, including 11th Street and Solidarity Drive and the new bridges being considered for Lincoln Park.  Maybe it's finally time for this long-overdue project to get started.

Also interested in the project is the British Consulate in Chicago.  It would love to have some sort of ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the queen's visit, but isn't sure what it can do in conjunction with the city yet.   One thing is certain -- if they want to get a British dignitary or a member of the royal family to be here for the ribbon cutting, they'd better get their request in soon.  Very soon.  Official visits have to be planned months in advance.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Progress Report: 10 East Delaware

In case you were wondering what replaced Chicago's best Asian fusion
restaurant, here it is.

10 East Delaware is designed to be one of the new breed of classy
skyscrapers that look like Paris on steroids. See The Fordham and the
Elysian for other examples.

One disappointment is already apparent: there will be zero setback
from the sidewalk on either side. That means a less walkable
neighborhood in an where many of the sidewalks are already
unreasonably narrow.

Oak Street diamond may shine again

The former diamond of Oak Street may get a chance to shine again.

The Chicago Tribune reports that South Africa's DeBeers company is thinking about opening a boutique in the former Esquire Theater building.  

The Esquire has been vacant for quite some time.  Plans to redevelop it into a hotel were nixed by the neighbors who worried about traffic and noise.  A quiet upscale diamond merchant, however, would fit in nicely.  After all Harry Winston and Graff have both been welcomed to Oak Street with open arms recently.

It's worth noting that Chicago is a little behind on getting a glance from DeBeers.  The company has operated a shop in Houston's Galleria mall for at least a year, and probably longer.

Another note -- the same Tribune article reports that Penguin in the 900 North Michigan Annex (Rush Street) will open on July 30th.  But there are signs up inside the mall stating that Penguin is already open for business.  Hmmm...

Another VACANCY sign at 900 North Michigan

It's probably not that surprising, but another big store is closing at the Shops at 900 North Michigan.  The Magnificent Mile's northernmost mall is losing Waldenbooks.  The book seller has sent out "store closing" e-mail messages to thousands of (soon to be former) customers.

To be honest, the location wasn't that great for the store and we're surprised it lasted as long as it did.  900 doesn't get as much foot traffic as the rest of the Boul Mich, and as you get higher up in these vertical malls the number of people wandering by dwindles.

It's just the latest in a series of changes at the mall.  Ultra-high-end crystal purveyor Lalique closed its shop a few weeks ago.  That doesn't appear to be the Chicago store's fault, though.  Lalique has closed a number of its boutiques recently, including one at the Louvre in Paris that will become an Apple Store.  The Lalique space at 900 is being taken by an expanded Mont Blanc pen store.  But for the expansion, Mont Blanc is closed.  Just before the closing, Lalique's manager was telling customers that it would re-open, possibly on Oak Street.

Also closed for renovation is the Oak Tree restaurant.  Oak Tree closed for a little while last year, too, but not for renovation.  At the time the wait staff told customers it was going out of business.  Now the staff is saying that it's a renovation and Oak Tree will be back in the September/October time frame.

Also currently closed is the first floor of what used to be Club Monaco.  The store is keeping its second floor, but the first floor is becoming a Michael Kors store.  Closing the lower half means there is no longer any men's items at that location.

Michael Kors also has its eye on the current Stewart Weitzman space for a second boutique.  We hear it will be a while before Weitzman moves out, possibly up to a year.

While you're updating your 900 North Michigan chess board, don't forget Tucci Benucch was replaced by Frankie's, and King Cafe replaced Corner Bakery.

Overall it looks like a major play by the mall to make itself more upscale to compete or blend better with Oak Street and set itself apart from the riff-raff chain stores popping up all over Michigan Avenue (Best Buy, Crate and Barrel, etc...)  What might accomplish this better is if 900 figured out a way to convert its Oak Street-facing loading dock into a mall entrance.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Progress Report: Chicago Avenue Brown Line station

A few years back we at the Chicago Architecture Blog went a little nuts when the Brown Line rehab project got underway.  Now that we're starting to reap the benefits, it might be time to calm down a little bit.

Anyway, this piece of good news just came in from Alderman Riley's office:

Chicago Brown Line CTA Station Update

Beginning Friday, July 19th, the Chicago Brown Line station will see the re-opening of Franklin Street for normal pedestrian usage.  The obstructions currently located on either side of Franklin Street will be removed at this time.  The permanent staircases currently located on Chicago Avenue and Franklin Street will operate as an "exit only" staircase until the completion of the project. The station should be fully operational on September 7th.  The staircases on Chicago and Franklin will be open for both entrance and exit, and the elevators at the same location will be fully operational at this time.
Woo hoo!

Turning green into a gateway

Anyone who's wandered around outside the Blackstone Hotel can tell you -- there's something missing in the southern part of Grant Park.

It lacks the vibrancy of the north end.  Too much of it is still railroad tracks and a big, hot, open space.  That may be great for grasshoppers, but it's not much use to people.

Last year that started to change with the installation of "Agora" -- the leggy sculpture by a Polish artist.   But more has to be done.

To that end, a coalition of architecture firms, business interests, and civic organizations are working on a plan for the southwest corner of Grant Park.  The idea is to make it a major gateway to the Loop, the Museum District, and the South Loop.  Starchitect Adrian Smith is among those involved, so expect great things.

Renovating Buckingham

We have more information on the upcoming renovation of Buckingham Fountain.  The landmark waterpiece has been rehabbed any number of times over the years, but this time the city is going all out.  The preservation effort should also hopefully keep the fountain from leaking as much as it does and to make it more water efficient.

The fountain will close right after Labor Day and work will continue through the winter.   Expect to see the area tented off so workers can make progress even in January.  Hizzonor wants to have the fountain fixed and pumping by April 1, 2009 -- that's when the International Olympic Committee begins its visit to Chicago.  So what do we get for our $25 million?

  • Removal and cleaning of all the marble
  • Rehabilitation all the plumbing
  • Rehabilitation of the basin

It doesn't sound like much, but there's more in the works.  One notion being explored is replacing that horrible crushed pink granite mess that surrounds the fountain with a proper walking surface that doesn't get in your shoes.

Trees and landscaping, though a great idea, cannot be added because it would change the design of the plaza.  It's historic design was intended to be a vast open space, and in the interest of historical accuracy we're OK with letting that go.  But no one's sure about what kind of surface, historically speaking, was supposed to cover what it called the "table" (the area where people walk).  

One idea currently gaining traction is to replace the crushed granite with paving blocks.  This would give people in wheelchairs better access to the fountain.  We're told it can be quite hard to push through all those rocks right now.  The pavers would have a gap between them filled in with crushed rock to allow rainwater to drain into the earth instead of into storm sewers. The pavers the city is looking at would be constructed of concrete, but have the same crushed pink marble embedded in them to keep the plaza's familiar color and to allow the color to last.

In addition to redoing the plaza, there's talk of giving the fountain's light show a high-tech makeover.  We're talking LEDs here, but elderly crabs are shrieking in fear of lasers.  If so, so what?  Chicago could use a good laser show.

So, where does the $25 million come from?  Well, this time it's not entirely your wallet.  Eight million dollars comes from the ARTIC's Ferguson Fund.  That's money used for public art in the city.  Another $1 million comes from Lollapalooza, payable in four yearly installments of $250,000.  The remainder will come from your pocket, though it's hard to say in what form.  Ideally the city and the state would kick in an equal share (It's not like the state tourism board doesn't use Buckingham in any of its promotions).  But a full state contribution is seen as unlikely considering that Governor Blagojevich cut $350 million from hospitals recently.  So either the city is going to have to fork over the entire amount, or we're going to see some corporate branding like with the Chase Promenade and the BP Pedestrian Bridge in Millennium Park.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Columbia is Coming

As the retail shuffle continues on North Michigan Avenue, we have sad news for 12-year-old boys across the Midwest yearning for a Chicago vacation:

There will not be three Victoria's Secret stores within three blocks of each other in Chicago.
Tragic, we know.
When the big Victoria's Secret store at 830 North Michigan Avenue was being renovated a couple of years ago the chain opened another shop across the street in Water Tower Place.  When the renovation was complete, the Water Tower Place shop was doing so well it was decided to keep both open.   
Then came word that Pottery Barn was closing (actually, it's already closed) its North Michigan Avenue store entirely and that Victoria's Secret would take its place.  So what happens to the VS at 830?  Well, we now know -- Crain's Chicago Business is reporting that the 830 space next to Borders will be taken by Columbia Sportsware -- a new entrant to the city's retail market.  That leaves us with only two Victoria's Secret stores.  How will we cope?
You always hear people complain when Starbucks locates two stores across the street from each other, but somehow Victoria's Secret doing the same thing is OK.  Now we'll have Columbia Sportsware at 830 North Michigan and The North Face at 875 North Michigan.  Hmmm....  Maybe someone can convince REI to move into the vacant former CompUSA space around the corner.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The photo that should make Chicago proud

This is a great photo. Not for it's composition -- that is questionable. Not for it's quality -- it was taken with a cell phone camera. What should make Chicagoans proud is its content.

This is a freight elevator panel in the John Hancock Center. You'll notice that the buttons go up to 98. How cool is that? How many cities in the Western Hemisphere have buildings with 98th
floors? Only two: New York and Chicago. And Chicago has twice as many 100+ story buildings as New York.

The John Hancock Center actually has 100 stories (and the Sears Tower 110). 99 and 100 are accessed through another elevator. But it's still a cool picture.

Art learnin' - Not book learnin'

A beautiful summer day at the newly re-greened Seneca Park. Because of its shady location grass has a hard time growing here. That's why there is a fence around the grass and signs reading, "Newly seeded area, Please keep off the lawn."

As you can see, that concern for the condition of the park is not shared by the Museum of Contemporary Art next door. Those are MCA Art Camp kids and counselors frolicking of the fragile greenery. I guess artists don't learn to read.

R.I.P.: Park Michigan

It's game over for the Park Michigan.  We hear that the svelte tower that was supposed to rehab the old YWCA on Michigan Avenue at 9th street (official address is 830 South Michigan Avenue) is dead.  The idea was to rehab the historic Y and add the condo tower behind it in order to make the project profitable.  But it's just not happening and the property is up for sale again.

In the end, what killed it?  We're not sure.  We're hearing two possibilities -- significant structural deficiencies in the YWCA, and pressure from the so-called "community groups."  You know the ones -- the NIMBYs who have got their view and won't let anyone else have one.

So instead of getting these:

  • Landmark tower
  • Hundreds of new residents
  • Millions of new tax dollars
  • New grocery store
  • New ground floor retail
  • New restaurants
  • Preserved YWCA building

The South Loop gets to keep these:

  • Abandoned, unsound YWCA building
  • A surface parking lot

Good job, NIMBYs.

Monday, July 14, 2008

New Year -- New Service

Well, today marks six years since the Chicago Architecture Blog first went online.  Both the web site and the city have grown remarkably since that first post all that time ago.

To mark our sixth anniversary we are abandoning the homebrew blogging software cobbled together out of bits and bytes and tape and chewing gum and are going with a commercial blog solution.

Why?  Well, to be frank it took a long, long time for us to convert pictures and prose into blog entries on the old system.  There were lots of macros and Photoshop kludges and it was all a lot more work than it was worth.

Now, armed with fancy new iPhones (actually the old ones -- we haven't ponied up for the 3G yet) we hope to be able to publish more entries, more quickly, and many of them right from the street as we take pictures.

We're hoping this new method will bring you more information and help us all see Chicago a little better, and a little faster.