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Curbed Awards 2013: The Buildings!

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Hear, hear! It's time for Curbed's end-of-the-year awards presentation. We scoured our 2013 back issues to confidently reward standout buildings of the year (both successes and flops). Subjectivity reigns, but every building on the list has at least been a newsmaker. Won't you join us?

Biggest Draw— The 500-unit 500 Lake Shore Drive opened in May and eclipsed the leased midpoint three months later. The building's design is clean and utilitarian and apparently the right formula for both young professionals and empty nesters (the stated target groups for this luxury building). Rents are borderline preposterous, with sub-$2K studios hard to come by and a pair of moderate-sized penthouse units asking $10,500 and $18,000/month. Related Midwest took the marketing success of 1225 Old Town, matched the amenities of that project and others, and went really big.

Best New Highrise— Optima Chicago Center gets our nod for this one, with honorable mention for 1611 W Division (at 11 stores, not as confidently highrise). Some observers direct their scorn at Optima for its cleanly delineated parking podium and breaks in the facade which resemble a fridge with a little imagination (Darth Vader even crops up now and then). We think it's one of Streeterville's best, and when paired with its to-be-built (taller) sibling, will be even more assertive in the skyline. The building's innards are pretty good, too, with 325 luxury apartments, a great array of amenities, and an emphasis on outdoor spaces and views.

Best Lowrise— Moving away from residential, the new DePaul Theater School by Pelli-Clarke-Pelli earns the Curbed Award shout-out for accomplished low rise. Innovative performance and instructional spaces give rhyme and reason to the exterior's blocky assembly. A range of transparencies provoke a start-and-stop engagement with the street life, and there are a couple of great upper-level outdoor terraces facing onto Fullerton. We wouldn't say it's a world-class building, but it does engage the city and student body successfully and has little competition as the campus' western gateway.

Best Conversion— Tie: Urban Treehouse and Vesta Lofts. The former is a boutique condo conversion of the old Sisters of the Resurrection convent in Bucktown. The building is striking, lends itself to lofted units with broad balconies, and has had little trouble courting buyers for its seven units with prices starting at $575K. The latter is a rental conversion of the Nationally-registered Vesta Accumulator Building in the South Loop. The 59-unit project worked within the confines of historic preservation to deliver handsome spaces with reasonable rents. Lower-floor decks were added and a rooftop terrace built, but otherwise the interiors are pure vintage. The conversion finished in late summer and was all leased-up prior to September move-ins.

Trend of the Year— There are multiple correct answers for this, but we'll go with downtown office tower development. Not the completion of new buildings, but their conception and, in some cases, official approval: 150 N Riverside; River Point; 151 N Franklin; and portions of Wolf Point. There are also rehab projects of note, with the recently-completed Wrigley Building rehab and debate over the future of the outmoded Realtor Building.

500 North Lake Shore Drive

500 North Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60611