Yesterday, Amtrak revealed its ambitious multi-phase redevelopment plan for Chicago’s Union Station and surrounding properties. The $1 billion-plus undertaking would see the construction of five new towers featuring a combined 3.1 million square feet of office, residential, hotel, and retail space. Expected to be a game-changer for both the station and the neighborhood at large, the plan is not without its critics.
Tribune architecture columnist Blair Kamin provided a less than stellar assessment of the plan and claims that it appears that Amtrak seems to have “put a premium on getting things done rather than getting them done right.” Kamin claims that the plan doesn’t do enough to signal Union’s new identity to its surroundings and draw people in. He also argued that the elevated plaza of phase two will likely see little use and called the planned food hall “dull with a capital D.” This suggested an apparent lack of foresight considering that the project would obscure the city’s new—and quite expensive—transit hub. A redesign is needed, said the writer.
Meanwhile, Crain’s Greg Hinz, who spilled the beans on Union Station’s plan a day before the city’s official announcement, circled back in a more recent article stating that while “there is every indication that something great is about to start happening at Union Station” the plan fails to address the current issue of congestion. He argued that Union’s cramped Metra operations need to be modernized with better passenger flow, wider platforms, improved ventilation, and new tracks.
According to Mr. Hinz, the latest Union Station plan is “the equivalent of remodeling terminals at O'Hare International Airport to provide creature comforts and help pay some bills, while not adding runways or new gates to handle the traffic.” These upgrades would be separate from the Master Plan and require the City of Chicago to spend funds that aren’t necessarily there.
While the prospect of constructing five new towers should appeal to fans of tall buildings, some see the winning Union Station redevelopment bid as a let down after seeing Sterling Bay’s proposal for a striking 958-foot office tower. Designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the skyline-altering—but ultimately unselected—concept was in stark contrast to the blue glass boxes revealed this week.
With well-known architects Gensler, Studio Gang, and Pelli Clarke Pelli all involved with competing bids, people are naturally curious about the designs that weren’t chosen by Amtrak. As one commentator on the development-oriented forum at SkyscraperPage put it: “I want to see all of the other entrants so I can properly know how deep my disappointment should be.”
What do you think of the winning Union Station Master Developer Concept?