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Ask Chicagoist: A-spire-ing Tower?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on Sep 22, 2006 1:30PM

Whatever happened to the "spire" Calavatra project? On hold? Going through?
I looked around but can't find anything.

Matt L.

2006_09_askspire.jpgHi there Matt,

When Chicagoist was growing up, our family vacations consisted almost entirely of looking for tall buildings and checking out the view from the top (much to the chagrin, we must confess, of our scared-of-heights mother). Old habits die hard, and as a result we can't help but get excited at the prospect of more ridiculously tall buildings in our city, especially sexy curvy ones that will add to our already world-class skyline.

So with that in mind, we're thankful that the project still seems to be a "go," even though some of the key players have changed since the initial conceptualization of the building. Groundbreaking is currently planned for early 2007, and the building is expected to be completed in 2010.

The Spire was designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who is famous for his projects which borrow heavily from organic designs and the natural world. Calatrava says that the inspiration for the slim tower's twisty shape (each floor will be offset from the one below by two degrees, creating an "impression of movement") was how he imagined "the plume of smoke from a campfire lit centuries ago by Native Americans at the mouth of the Chicago River." Other people think it just looks like a drill bit (or as we said previously, soft serve ice cream). Tribute or no, we assume Native Americans building campfires near the building with its high-class shops, condos, and hotel will not be welcome.

The building was originally commissioned by developer Christopher Carley and the Fordham Company, and was known as the Fordham Spire. However, this past July the Fordham Company determined it could not come up with the financing required (just four months after getting official zoning approval for the building from Chicago City Council), and so the $1.2 billion project was taken over by Garrett Kelleher and his company Shelbourne Development Ltd. from Dublin, Ireland. The group initially bought the land the building will sit on from its former owner, LR Development, for $64 million, and then easily came up with the rest of the financing, something that Carley had been struggling with since he had not found an anchor hotel yet.

The Spire, now known by the painfully descriptive moniker "400 North Lake Shore Drive," will be located at the mouth of the Chicago River at the intersection of Lake Shore and North Water (right in the center of the skyline). The residential luxury condo building (with 500 units) will be 124 stories tall, with a 20-story 5-star hotel (that Chicagoist won't be invited to anytime soon) at the bottom. There will also be plenty of retail space, just in case you feel like you haven't contributed enough to the economy after purchasing your $5 million home.

But our favorite part of the whole schebang is the sense of American glee we have over the bragging rights we'll gain by beating out our Canadian friends in Toronto with their CN Tower (553.3 meters) for the record of North America's tallest "free-standing structure" (610 meters). It should be noted that currently the CN Tower is the tallest structure in the world (Taipei 101 (509 meters) in Taiwan is the tallest building, ground to structural top, and the Sears Tower (527.3 meters) is the tallest building ground to pinnacle), but the completion of Dubai's 808 meter Burj Dubai in 2008 (and perhaps some other contenders as well) will blow all other buildings out of the water, height-wise, and maybe we can stop having so many different categories. Tallest building records is always a sensitive subject here in Chicago, the birthplace of the skyscraper, so we're relieved for the morale of the city that we'll regain a little something in that regard.

Image via Jeremy Atherton

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