While traditional office lobbies were created to project wealth or handle basic transitory functions like security checks, an emerging trend is turning these spaces into destinations in their own right. One such repositioning is underway at the Loop’s Michigan Plaza. Built in 1985, the two-tower office complex at 205 and 225 N. Michigan Avenue serves roughly 20,000 visitors on a daily basis.
Looking to build off of a previous renovation that added a wavy bright red architectural canopy to the exterior, the towers’ owners selected Chicago-based architect (and building tenant) CannonDesign to reimagine Michigan Plaza’s lower level. The makeover not only aimed to address the dated and gloomy aesthetics, but also change how people use the space.
“There’s been a paradigm shift in terms of how tall office buildings handle their lobbies,” explained CannonDesign’s Robert Benson. “Ten, fifteen years ago the typical Class A lobby could be very beautiful and professional but also very austere. There were no places to sit. It was thought that providing seating would attract people and that was viewed as a bad thing. Its now taken more of a hospitality direction. Instead of places you pass through, lobbies are places you can be, meet people, or get away from your office.”
With that in mind, the goal of the Michigan Plaza was to change how the space functioned. Thanks to new seating and a pop-up cafe space featuring rotating vendors, the renovated lobby will become a place that tenants and visitors can linger. Meanwhile the check-in desk is being reimagined as more of an inviting, concierge-like experience.
According to Benson, the design inspiration for the new space came from the unexpected “bronze-like glow” that the sun cast on the dark metal skin of the building at sunrise. The goal was to bring some of this light into the structure which informed the choice to construct the front desk in bronze and re-clad the supporting columns in white glass.
The lobby’s existing book-matched green marble wall coverings will remain. “There was just so much of it that we decided to embrace it,” explained the designer. The dark stone will stand out against the newfound brightness of the lobby instead of getting lost in the shadows.
The centerpiece of the 20,000-square-foot lobby will be a sculptural light installation consisting of 780 individual lamps suspended by metal wires in an undulating elliptical arrangement. Serving as an axis between the lobby’s various “neighborhoods” the piece was designed to appear delicate while also conveying a sense of mass when viewed from different angles.
Behind the fixture, an existing wooden wall will be removed to open up the space to more natural light. The opening will connect the front desk to the cafe space and its curving illuminated fabric ceiling. The corridor would also provide a future pedway connection to the east when the vacant lot at the northwest corner of Stetson and Lake streets is eventually redeveloped.
Construction on the project began in March and has revealed a few surprises along the way. The team discovered that they had to change how they wrapped the columns, situated mechanical equipment, and approached the floor. “That’s the nature of architecture,” said Benson. “It’s creating a one-off prototype while trying to be as true as possible to the main idea.” Michigan Plaza’s new lobby is anticipated to reopen by Labor Day.
- Chicago Loop archives [Curbed Chicago]