Michigan Avenue has a brand new tower, nevertheless it doesn’t are living up to the street’s high specifications

The remarkable, cliff-like wall of skyscrapers across Michigan Avenue from provide Park conjures many metaphors: It’s the face Chicago items to the area, the entrance porch that overlooks the city’s front yard, a bunch portrait that achieves unbelievable coherence despite a classy array that levels from Romanesque Revival to 2nd Empire to artwork Deco.

In a preemptive strike that predicted how Millennium Park would supercharge growth, possibly leading builders to tear down buildings within the wall, Chicago in 2002 granted landmark repute to a mile-lengthy stretch of the cliff between Randolph road on the north and eleventh highway on the south. but as new towers muscle into grant Park’s southern side, development power continues to weigh on the ancient district.

is this evolution for the more advantageous? I’d say no in keeping with the new Essex on the Park, a high-quality however unremarkable 56-story house tower at 812 S. Michigan. notwithstanding it’s sensitively designed at road degree, the tower’s skyline presence is a tall order of metal-and-glass “meh.” That’s no longer first rate satisfactory, given its well-liked web site and the undeniable fact that, at a top of 620 toes, it's for the second the district’s tallest constructing.


Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

Essex on the Park, a brand new 620-foot residence tower with 479 instruments along the 800 block of South Michigan Avenue in Chicago on March 19, 2019.

Essex on the Park, a new 620-foot house tower with 479 devices along the 800 block of South Michigan Avenue in Chicago on March 19, 2019. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)

Designed by Chicago’s Hartshorne Plunkard architecture and developed via the Chicago-based mostly Oxford Capital neighborhood and London-based Quadrum international, the 479-unit apartment tower raises a deeper query, one whose relevance extends past Michigan Avenue: Can walls of glass obtain the equal compelling results as partitions of stone or other styles of of masonry?

To make sure, glass signals modernity, its transparency is irresistible to people that crave panoramic views, and it tends to be cheaper than masonry. Yet is there no room for substances that remaining longer, have more persona and are more energy-productive?

officially prevalent as the historic Michigan Boulevard District, a legacy of the days when crucial Michigan Avenue turned into a trendy lakefront promenade, the historic district firstly was limited to constructions from 1882 to 1930, among them Adler & Sullivan’s muscular Auditorium building of 1890 and the beehive-topped Straus constructing of 1924 (now called the Metropolitan Tower). although their patterns range, these structures are united by an underlying similarity of massing, substances, rhythms, and textures.

however things obtained significantly more complex in 2016 when city officials, responding to a rash of high-upward push proposals for the district’s southern edge and a renewed appreciation of mid-twentieth century modernism, conveniently prolonged the district’s “duration of significance” to 1972. The flow allowed modernist structures as soon as seen as non-contributing outliers to become city landmarks eligible for historical protection tax breaks.


Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

Essex on the Park, left, is a brand new 56-story condo tower at 812 S. Michigan Ave. The project additionally contains a rehab of the ancient Essex lodge.

Essex on the Park, left, is a brand new fifty six-story condo tower at 812 S. Michigan Ave. The project also contains a rehab of the ancient Essex lodge. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)

among them: the 14-story Essex lodge, a good but hardly masterful metal-and-glass motor hotel designed through Chicago architects A. Epstein and Sons. Rebranded because the resort Essex and carrying a redesigned interior straight out of “Mad men,” the 274-room resort at 800 S. Michigan Ave. is bodily integrated with the residence tower (they share a ground-stage restaurant and an elegant nightclub that’s wedged into the tower’s fifth and sixth flooring). It reopens April 1.

This admirable cluster of actions may also convey lots-mandatory bustle to this sleepy stretch of South Michigan, however the district is paying an aesthetic expense for the Essex tasks. for those who aspect within the glass-faced East-West school building to the south of Essex on the Park, you've got three glass-walled structures in a rowâ€"sufficient to keep in mind the late architect Robert Venturi’s memorable crack about minimalist modernism: “less is a bore.”

Granted, there are exceptions to every rule. The origami-like glass partitions of the Spertus Institute for learning and leadership of 2007, designed with the aid of Chicago’s Krueck & Sexton Architects and determined at 610 S. Michigan Ave., as soon as contrasted brilliantly with the older constructions around it. but a few of that sheen turned into misplaced 5 years later when Columbia college refaced an adjoining building with a graceful wall of glass.


Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

The glass walled Columbia faculty building, left, and the Spertus Institute, right, alongside the 600 block of South Michigan Avenue on March 19, 2019.

The glass walled Columbia faculty building, left, and the Spertus Institute, right, along the 600 block of South Michigan Avenue on March 19, 2019. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)

That episode printed a bigger lesson: Glass continually works ideal when it operates in counterpoint to richly articulated walls of masonry. When glass becomes the context, it commonly struggles to match the first-rate and persona of limestone, granite, brick and terra cotta..

materials aren't fate, of course, and Essex on the Park deserves credit for responsibly following most of the design guidelines that the city adopted in 2016 when it tweaked the landmark district and allowed structures on its southern end to range in top from four hundred to 900 toes.

via creating a wall-like experience of enclosure alongside the sidewalk, the tower enhances the district’s cliff-like kind. obviously, that’s a massive upgrade from the low-upward push parking deck that served the Essex inn.

And like different buildings within the district, it strives to be a 3-part composition with a naturally articulated base, middle and good. the base, as a minimum, is persuasive. It’s human-scaled, a stronger, greater solid-looking edition of glass than the buildings on its flanks. It additionally matches the roofline of the hotel Essex, adhering to the notion that good structure acknowledges what goes earlier than it and anticipates what will come after.

In that spirit, Essex on the Park sooner or later could turn into an excellent skyline stepping-stone, making a transition from the district’s older constructions, which true out at around 410 feet, to a planned Helmut Jahn-designed condominium high-rise at 1000 S. Michigan. That 832-footer, a sleekly sculpted wedge of glass referred to as 1000M, has yet to birth development.

however the best stage of Michigan Avenue demands that buildings be greater than stepping stones. Measured by means of that yardstick, Essex on the Park comes up brief.

What you see nowadays is a watered-down version of Hartshorne Plunkard’s daring, if over-the-true, fashioned conception, which suggested a void â€" a “window,” the architects called it â€" within the core of the tower. Structural columns shaped like the letter “okay” would have sliced through this empty area and lifted the upper portion of the building into the air. The conception was to preserve south-dealing with views from the lodge’s guestrooms.


Hartshorne Plunkard structure

A conceptual design for Essex on the Park proposed expressing the tower’s inner structure in a diamond-formed pattern. The plan additionally recommended enclosing an open space within the base of the tower with glass with a view to preserve south-facing views from the hotel to the north.

A conceptual design for Essex on the Park proposed expressing the tower’s inner structure in a diamond-fashioned pattern. The plan additionally cautioned enclosing an open space within the base of the tower with glass so as to keep south-facing views from the inn to the north. (Hartshorne Plunkard structure)

The city’s landmarks commission rightly rejected the conception, which might have undermined the solidity of the district’s wall. Later versions of the plan, which have been lots extra compelling, additionally bit the dirt because the bracing equipment proved too high priced, in accordance with Hartshorne Plunkard design partner Paul Alessandro.

although a version of the “window” lives on in a glass-enclosed, four-story winter garden within the building’s base, can charge issues pressured the architects to make use of a greater regularly occurring constitution of big interior concrete walls and beefy perimeter columns. That’s the genesis of what we’re stuck with here â€" colossal expanses of glass, subdivided through aluminum-clad columns and sparkly little rods that gesture to the rooflines of different structures within the district.

The building makes no assorted skyline observation, though the excessive-upward push’s slender proportions properly echo the brick towers of the Hilton to the north. attempting to determine each one of the metropolis’s (and the developers’) bins, Essex on the Park lacks the prismatic elegance of the ultimate modernist excessive-rises and the beautiful setbacks and ornament of the most advantageous paintings Deco towers. It suits in neatly adequate with the row of taller towers just west of the Michigan Avenue district, however that’s faint compliment: There’s now not a four-famous person work of architecture among them.

Would a mixture of masonry and glass have labored superior? possibly, but, in actuality, it’s inconceivable to claim. Heavy-passed efforts to legislate design great have proved fruitless, as cities like San Francisco have discovered. however, i wonder if it may be time for metropolis officials to encourage architects and developers to reexamine their allegiance to glass. The cliff-like wall along Michigan Avenue â€" and the skyline as an entire â€" might be the greater for it.

Blair Kamin is a Tribune critic.


Twitter @BlairKamin