Overlooked in the excitement of the Bears' victory yesterday is the steady development of the plans for Santiago Calatrava's 2,000-foot tall skyscraper on Chicago's lake front. The building has been variously known as the Fordham Spire, Santiago's Spike, and the Twizzler. Now the developer wants to call it the Chicago Spire, a bland name that will never catch on. Calatrava continues to refine the homely, flat top Twizzler look of the design released last December. It's interesting to watch the architectural design process: Calatrava appears to be madly dashing off drawings in a frantic attempt to re-introduce some of the grace and excitement of the original plan before the caissons get dropped into place in June. Meanwhile, prospective buyers are supposed to sign up for $1,000 per square foot units without any blueprints to see.
All Calatrava will show the public right now are watercolors, and those only grudgingly. Recently he handed them to Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin, who had a few moments with the paintings before Calatrava snatched them back. Kamin generally likes what he sees. He reports that the "new version restores the project's earlier spontaneity," including a return to the full 360-degree rotation of the original plan, up from the timid 270-degree turn of the December plan. The new plan promises to be
a single, organic piece of skyline sculpture rather than an object with a spike stuck atop it--a supersize drill bit for a city that has fallen in love with a supersize Bean . . . The spiral [distinguishes Calatrava's] design apart from Sears Tower and the sober, flat-topped, utilitarian towers of the mid-20th Century. They were built for a meat-and-potatoes Chicago. This is a different skyscraper for a different city, a city that plays as well as works, a city where the vast majority of new high-rises are places to live, not places to work. With Calatrava drawing inspiration for the tower's top from a light brown snail shell--its softly coiling shape provides a perfect model for the skyscraper's top--the possibility of an extraordinary skyline silhouette is now within reach.
One gets the feeling that Calatrava and his developer, Dublin-based developer Garrett Kelleher, are overconfident that they can break ground in June. Neither one of them has built in Chicago before, and this can be a difficult town in which to get things done. Chicago does big things well, from time to time, but lots of narrow interests have to be satisfied before they come to life.