Yesterday Santiago Calatrava and his developer Garrett Kelleher unveiled the new design for a 2,000-foot high tower on Chicago's lake shore. When plans for the building were originally announced, the building was called the Fordham Spire and Calatrava unveiled a slender, twisting "drill bit" tower with hotel, retail, and condo space and a terrorist-friendly ground level garage. Months later a new developer and a new design have emerged. The building is now wider and less graceful, more like a peppermint stick than a drill bit. The broadcast tower idea has been dropped, supposedly because the new Irish developer didn't have any experience in broadcast towers. The new design will increase the available floor space available for sale, and all of it will be devoted to condos, for sale at an astonishing $1,000 a foot.
Local reaction is mixed. The new design is regarded as "more Chicago" than the "Euro" original; if fatter with a perfectly flat head is Chicago, then I guess it is. After extolling the virtues of the slender design of the Euro original, Calatrava is now saying "I'm learning from Chicago." No one is calling it Santiago's Spike any more, a bad sign, I think, for its popular acceptance. Calatrava's designs, if not always entirely functional, are usually graceful. While the original design was atypical of a city shaped by the squared-off modernism of Sullivan, Mies, and Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, recently Chicago's developer community has been showing some imagination by commissioning more fluid and daring designs like Jeanne Gang's terrific Aqua Building. Santiago's Spike clearly influenced Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron's design for the Gazprom City project in St. Petersburg, Russia. Calatrava's updated design seems to have largely abandoned the idea of recreating the mildly vertiginous experience of his Turning Torso building in Malmö, Sweden, which is probably just as well; clockwork twisting in a 2,000-foot building will seem more unnerving than stimulating. Still, the new design seems blander, less luminous and sculptural than Calatrava's best work. It recalls the chalk stick design of Edward Durell Stone's Aon Center, another gargantuan and unloved building on Chicago's lake front. (In the photo above it's the tall white building to the left of the Spire.)
Local developers are being polite about the project; Donald Trump is cursing it. Trump claims no one but himself can sell condos for $1,000 a foot in Chicago and calls the project "financial suicide." Local developers say well, yes, the price point may be a bit high, but maybe it'll work, and there's going to be a leaky basement because the building is so close to the lake. You never know what you're going to find once you start digging.
Today the Chicago Planning Commission is expected to approve the updated design.