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Have Chicago builders gotten over their fear of heights?

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With the latest building boom, developers have proposed a handful of supertall skyscrapers

A rendering of the under-construction Vista Tower
Studio Gang

In the years following 9/11, some residents in the United States no longer viewed the supertall skyscrapers that New York and Chicago are well know for as status symbols, but instead viewed them as possible targets for terrorist attacks. This fear even influenced the design for Chicago’s Trump International Hotel & Tower, which Trump originally announced would become the tallest building in the world. However, the plan was scaled back after the September 11th attacks and ultimately the building would top off at 1,389 feet, becoming the second tallest building in Chicago.

However, in the latest boom, there have been several exceptionally tall skyscrapers proposed for Chicago. Does this mean that builders’ fears of heights is over? That’s what Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin suggested shortly after the groundbreaking of the upcoming Vista Tower, which at nearly 1,200 feet tall will become Chicago’s third tallest building when completed. Kamin says that in more recent years, developers have become “more focused on the art of the deal than the art of architecture.”

Views from the residences at Vista Tower
Studio Gang

And Vista may be joined by others in the coming years. There’s a lot planned for the once sleepy Wolf Point site at the confluence of the Chicago River. A trio of towers, including one that will become of of the tallest towers in Chicago, are planned. One residential tower, which stands at 48 stories, is already open. The latest images and speculation about the Pelli Clarke Pelli-designed tower for Wolf Point’s southern tip suggest that it may surpass the threshold of 984 feet to be officially declared a supertall skyscraper.

In Streeterville, a tall new mixed-user designed by New York’s Robert A.M. Stern Architects is well underway. Dubbed One Bennett Park, the 67-story tower at 451 E. Grand will eventually stand at 836 feet when it is completed in 2019. And with the expected delivery of 350 total residences and 900 underground parking spaces, the project is as big in scale as it is in size. It will become the 13th tallest building in Chicago when it is completed.

Meanwhile, in the South Loop, there are a couple of really big projects in the works. Just over a year ago, it was announced that a 76-story tower designed by Rafael Viñoly was being planned at 113 E. Roosevelt Road. The tower, which draws inspiration from Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower, could one day be joined by a twin. No doubt, the pair would not only make an impact on the South Loop’s streetscape, but they would become a striking presence in the city’s skyline. At 829 feet, the west building would not be a supertall, but it would no doubt become one of the tallest buildings in Chicago.

And not far from 113 E. Roosevelt is yet another very big tower proposal. This time, the design comes from hometown architect Helmut Jahn. Initially presented as a 1,030-foot tall tower, the proposed tower for 1000 S. Michigan has since been downsized to 73 stories, or 832 feet in height. The plan was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission earlier this year and continues through the planning and proposal phases. If constructed, the tower would become the tallest in the South Loop (beating Viñoly’s tower by a mere three feet).

Most recently, noted Fulton Market-based developer Sterling Bay announced its intentions of joining the supertall club. Just a month ago, the developer unveiled a plan for a 958-foot SOM-designed tower for the West Loop. At that height, the tower would not only be an official supertall, but it would the tallest building west of the Chicago River, taking the crown from the still under-construction 150 N. Riverside, which will stand at nearly 750 feet when it is completed. The project also marks the return of a supertall project for Chicago from SOM, the firm behind the Willis Tower and Hancock Center’s design.

And finally, it’s still yet to be determined, but there’s a good chance that we will see something big proposed for 400 N. Lake Shore Drive, the site of the infamous Chicago Spire foundation hole. The property’s owner, Related Midwest, has been quiet about its plans for the site, but they recently made a big hire to help lead the effort.

It’s pretty clear that at this point in time and at this point in the development cycle, developers are indeed building tall again. And so long as market conditions are favorable, we could be seeing even more projects announced in the coming months.