Mr. Calatrava is back in Chicago

Santiago Calatrava and the developer Garrett Kelleher spoke to a turn-’em-away crowd tonight at the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

The tower may be tall, but they were short on specifics.

The closest they came to making news was, when asked, “how much will the condos cost?” Kelleher said that high end projects in Chicago get about $1200 a square foot, in New York they sell for $3,500 to $4,000 a square foot and a project in London is asking $9,000 a square foot in a Richard Rogers building. He said the Chicago Spire will be “somewhere in between.” And everyone laughed. And maybe it was a joke. Because in the past we were led to believe by Kelleher’s Shelbourne Development that these would sell for maybe at the high end, in the $3,000/sq. ft. range. Kelleher seemed to up the ante tonight.

But he keeps talking about an international crowd who would want to buy a unit here. How he’s going to market it all over the world. That enough people with enough means want to have a pied a terre here. (‘foot on the ground?’ At 2000 feet high this is more like a ‘pied a l’air’ isn’t it?) Maybe Mr. Kelleher will be right.

He also said that in his 15 or 16 years as a developer this is the best site that’s ever been available to him. He called it a “once-in-a-lifetime chance” – to work with Calatrava and because, you get that sense that Chicago made this man. He worked here for ten years for North side developers, his first two children were born here, then Kelleher went back to Ireland and became a very wealthy man in the incredible boom there.

He seems to want to give something back. He’s just iching to order his caissons.

He also said he wants it to have at least the minimum LEED (“green”) certification. And the tower, as you can see in the top photo, is still seven-sided.

It’s wonderful to listen to Santiago Calatrava speak, about how the footprint of the building should be minimal, how it should be transparent, how important it is to maximize the open space around the building, and offer the public places to sit, with artwork around (his own sculptures as at the base of his twisting tower in Malmo, Sweden?) and Calatrava even said the base must have interesting lighting.

Here’s a sketch he showed of undetailed concepts for how at the base, the structure could “lightly” meet the ground.

Calatrava spoke several times about the bike paths along the lake, he said he is designing a bridge, not a bascule bridge (a drawbridge with a counterweight) although he loves that tradition in Chicago, but a turning bridge, which he envisioned would look like this,
(click on any image to enlarge it)

And he showed large watercolors of the green spaces he is sketching for the east side of Lake Shore Drive.

The man who doesn’t drive a car – Santiago Calatrava – said Lake Shore Drive itself needs to be “uplifted, urbanized, civilized, embellished.” Boy is he right. He’d plant “masses of trees” alongside it, near his tower.

And he was generous enough to intersperse for us some slides of Zurich, where he lived for almost thirty years before moving his family to the U.S. Like an old fashioned slideshow of one’s European trip! He said Zurich is a livable city, a civilized city. He likes how the parks there meet the water,

how the parks have educational components, and interesting integrations of landscape and monuments. Calatrava said, “In a way, I can imagine this kind of ambiences here.”

Keep imagining, Sir. We must. He then showed how the traffic engineers in Zurich place trees or other obstructions on the sides of streets so cars have to zig-zag and they can’t drive fast. I gasped when I thought of what the people here would think of that idea, which is a good one, and is common in Europe.

But the folks at home will no doubt appreciate Calatrava saying that DuSable Park, named for the designated founder of this city and to be located across Lake Shore Drive from his tower, will have a symbiotic relationship with his skyscraper. Of which he really only talked about the lower 65 feet or so.

What was not referred to was the gigantic height of this thing, some 2000 feet! (Sears Tower by comparison is ‘only’ 1,450 feet.) The only mention of the height Calatrava made was to try to knock it down to size, by saying he is designing at two scales – yes a very tall building, but one that he wants to be light and detailed and human scale at the base. That’s great, and he’s right to do that. But it will still be 2,000 feet in the sky if it gets built. I wish they had spoken of that great height and that great scale, and what it would mean for the people down below, as well as for the skyline. It’s big no matter how you try to get around it, and big buildings have a big impact on their communities.

Calatrava does pay attention to detail. Before giving his talk he walked through the exhibition at the Architecture Foundation, in the atrium of the Santa Fe building. There, with what seems to be fairly constant with him – delight at the beauty of the world – he examined the details of the desks and chairs and other objects on view that Frank Lloyd Wright designed to go into his Price Tower in Oklahoma.

The latest renderings of the Chicago Spire, which Kelleher referred to as “the final drawings, I hope they’re the final drawings” will be released at a “Chicago Spire Community Meeting” – open to the public, sponsored by SOAR, the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents on March 26th. Mssrs. Kelleher and Calatrava will be there. I’m trying to get them on my radio show.

The latest image I’ve seen is this, notice the curved tip:

Final design plans are scheduled to be discussed by the Chicago Plan Commission on April 19th, before presentation to the City Council Zoning Committee and the full City Council. And then, if the City Council likes it, Mr, Kelleher can start with his caissons.

Oh, except there’s still that pesky little issue of financing. Which was also not clearly answered, when asked, at tonight’s meeting. Mr. Kelleher’s answer was, “The financing will be debt, and equity.” Another laugh. A nervous laugh? Kelleher said he met with the Anglo-Irish bank this morning and they are “fully committed.” But he did not give numbers. He said that he is currently bearing all the costs. There are no other investors. And though he currently has projects in Brussels, the Baltics, France, London and Ireland, this one thrills him.

We wish Garrett Kelleher all the best with this. I believe this tower would be good for Chicago. And that Calatrava does raise the bar.


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