Proposed building would be nationís tallest
July 26, 2005
BY DAVID ROEDER AND KEVIN NANCE Staff Reporters
Chicago's lakefront would get a contender for the title of tallest building in the United States under a developer's plan devised in partnership with Santiago Calatrava, one of the world's foremost architects.
Christopher Carley, chairman of Fordham Co., has shown city officials Calatrava's plan for the Fordham Spire, a hotel/condo tower at 346 E. North Water, where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan and across Lake Shore Drive from Navy Pier.
At 115 stories, the tower would be 1,458 feet to its roof, taller by eight feet than the roof of Sears Tower. But the Calatrava building would include a spire that, depending on structural details, would bring the building to around 2,000 feet.
'Financiers are in awe of this man'
Renderings of the Fordham Spire show a tall, slender, ethereal building whose glass-and-steel surface cascades down a central concrete core. The floor slabs are cantilevered out from the core, with each rotated about two degrees from the one below. As they rise, the floors turn 270 degrees around the core, creating an undulating effect like a gown or cloak.
"I know that Chicago is an Indian name, and I can imagine in the oldest time the Native Americans arriving at the lake and making a fire, with a tiny column of smoke going up in the air," Calatrava said. "With this simple gesture of turning one floor a little past another, you achieve this form."
Carley said the task of lining up money for the possibly $500 million building "has been the easiest in my career'' because of Calatrava, best known in the U.S. for his 2001 addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum and his planned transit hub at New York's Ground Zero. "Financiers are in awe of this man."
So are many architects. "He's a fabulous architect and structural engineer," says Chicago's Adrian Smith, a partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. "I love the sculptural quality of his work, how he relates the shape of his buildings to the structural forces in them. His work is very beautiful -- not often steely or tough, but usually highly refined and soft and sensual. He's one of a kind."
Location: 346 E. North Water
Height: 1,458 feet to the roof, about 2,000 feet counting spire
Square footage: 920,000
Projected cost: more than $500 million
Building use: 200-250 condos, 200-250 hotel rooms, retail and parking at the base
Possible construction start: May 2006
Possible completion: 2009
Developer: Fordham Co.
Architect: Santiago Calatrava
Political, financial hurdles
The main questions for the Carley-Calatrava team are whether the structure, planned as a mix of condominiums and hotel units, can be financed and whether it is politically realistic. It falls within the Streeterville neighborhood, a concentration of well-to-do residents increasingly irritable over new high-rises in their midst.
For Carley, meanwhile, the building would be a step up in the development game. After years of putting up multifamily housing around the Midwest, he entered the downtown market in the late 1990s and completed three major condo buildings, a low-rise at 65 E. Goethe and high-rises at 21 E. Huron and 25 E. Superior.
All catered to wealthy buyers. Sales were slower than expected and Carley had to refinance his loans. He said all his lenders have been repaid and that his relationships with them are good.
His company has a contract to buy the 2.2-acre site from affiliates of Chicago-based LR Development Co. LLC.
Carley said his confidence in completing the building "is more than [for] any project I've ever done because the city administration appreciates great architecture.'' He said he courted Calatrava for three years before finding a site suitable for the architect's artistic and engineering gifts.
Will neighbors support plan?
But in the end, the partnership was forged by "personal chemistry,'' Carley said. "I think he was impressed by my dedication to the city and my desire to do something for the city.''
While his plan could stir controversy, it plays into Mayor Daley's pronounced desire to have top-flight architects leave an imprint in Chicago. Also, Carley employs the law firm of Daley & George, whose name partner is mayoral brother Michael Daley. The firm has one of the busiest zoning practices in the city.
Carley said city planners saw the project's details in May and were impressed by the curved, flowing profile of the building. A spokeswoman for the city's Planning Department said the agency would not comment on the design until developers submit a formal zoning plan.
Carley said his plan needs a zoning variance to change the height limitation on the site. And therein lies an argument he'll use against any critics.
Current zoning, he said, lets him put up two buildings on the site in the range of 35 and 50 stories. Going taller and skinnier will minimize blockage of sunlight and views, Carley said.
In addition, he said a Calatrava building will raise property values for the neighbors.
It's not known if the residents will buy that argument. Rosalie Harris, executive director of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, said the group has been shown only a few details of the project and not enough on which to form an opinion.
The group orchestrated a campaign against a proposed 64-story tower near the landmark Fourth Presbyterian Church at Michigan and Delaware, causing the local alderman to come out against it.