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City grants preliminary landmark status for Mies van der Rohe’s Promontory Apartments

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The Hyde Park tower was the famed architect’s first high-rise project

A street level view of a 22-story apartment tower rising above a tree canopy. The building has a rectangular row of windows framed by beige brick and concrete. It is surrounded by other buildings under a blue cloudless sky.
The building at 5530 S. Shore Drive provides most ots its co-op units with views of Lake Michigan.

Designed by legendary architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Hyde Park’s Promontory Apartments is on its way to becoming a protected site following Thursday’s vote by the Chicago Commission on Landmarks to grant the building at 5530 S. Shore Drive preliminary landmark status.

Completed in 1946, around the same time Mies was masterplanning IIT’s modernist campus in Bronzeville, the 22-story co-op building was Mies’s first high-rise project. The South Side development was also the first International Style tower built in Chicago and the city’s first high-rise apartment built after World War II.

Although the International Style eventually became so common and repetitive that it spawned entire architectural movements rejecting its austerity, Promontory Apartments was nothing short of revolutionary when it debuted.

The design forgoes traditional ornamentation and instead lets the building’s simple “less is more” lines and materials do the talking. Concrete slabs and columns are exposed for all to see and walls of buff brick and glass maximize views of the lake. Even the recessed glass-walled lobby was considered cutting edge at the time.

The expression of the building’s skeletal structure as an architectural element and the use of a three-part “tripartite” horizontal division are two important design themes that informed subsequent Mies high-rises, noted the Commission on Landmarks report.

These influences are seen in other projects Mies built in collaboration with Promontory Apartments developer Herb Greenwald such as Commonwealth Promenade Apartments and 860-880 N. Lake Shore Drive.

The preliminary landmark recommendation is a key first step in preserving the building. A final recommendation by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and a vote by the Chicago City Council are expected to follow. The designation protects visible exteriors and the lobby.

The National Park Service added Promontory Apartments to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.