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Landmarks Issues Height Limit for Historic Michigan Avenue

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Daniel Burnham's famous Chicago credo of "make no little plans" is set to receive a slight caveat as the Commission on Chicago Landmarks seeks to clarify and amend the guidelines of the Michigan Avenue Historic District through the introduction of a maximum building height limit. The framework of rules protecting the stretch of the Michigan Avenue streetwall between Randolph and Roosevelt became a hotly debated topic when a wave a new towers was unexpectedly proposed for the South Loop in the second half of 2015. According to the Commission on Landmarks' upcoming agenda, new construction between 8th and 11th street -- where most of the South Michigan Avenue's buildable lots are located -- may now bridge but not exceed the height of structures located in the core of the district and the highrises at southern edge of Grand Park. Using the 818-foot Legacy at Millennium Park to the north and the planned 880-foot Rafael Viñoly-designed tower for 113 E. Roosevelt to the south as visual brackets, the latest amendment to the district's guidelines would see new tower height in this area capped between 400 and 900 feet.

This latest development is certainly consistent with a January 11th rumor that Helmut Jahn's supertall at 1000 S. Michigan was going to be cut from its proposed height of 1001 feet down to something in the mid 800-foot range due to concerns raised by Landmarks. The same rumor was confirmed later that day as an individual representing the globally-renowned architecture firm acknowledged that the design was going back to the drafting table and would ultimately emerge shorter. Ideally the city would have proactively issued an amendment to the rules before firms like JAHN sunk resources into designing its tower, but there was no way of predicting the South Loop's 2015 explosion of proposed plus 500-foot towers.

Another highrise proposal that falls within the amended 8th to 11th street sub-area is Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture's Essex Inn tower located at 800 S. Michigan. First presented to neighbors along with 1000 S. Michigan at a public meeting in late October, 2015, the 605-foot-tall residential tower does conform to the amended height parameters of the district but it may have seen a redesign since its initial unveiling. According to new renderings posted by the development watchers at SkyScraperPage, the tweaked Essex Inn tower will retain its signature lower level stilts but see a redesigned facade that changes texture as it rises to address the 340-foot roofline of the historic 1927 Hilton Tower located just to the north at 720 S. Michigan. It's unclear if this potential change was an independent design decision by HPA or a compulsory move mandated by Landmarks to reference the historic streetwall.

An illustrated copy of the new Michigan Avenue Historic District guidelines can be viewed here with the new construction amendments for 2016 located on numbered page 36 (page 44 of the PDF file). The Commission on Landmarks will meet today at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle, in Room 201-A at 1:30. The amended Michigan Avenue Historic District guidelines is the first item on the meeting's agenda.

·Commission on Chicago Landmarks February 2016 agenda [PDF]
·Helmut Jahn Tower May Lose Supertall Status With Height Cut [Curbed Chicago]
·The Fuse Has Been Lit for the South Loop's Next Big Building Boom [Curbed Chicago]