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13 skyscrapers that will transform Chicago’s skyline

Curbed logo Curbed 4/12/2019 Jay Koziarz
a body of water with a city in the background: A rendering showing the under construction Vista Tower (left) and the proposed supertall addition to Tribune tower (right). © Rendering courtesy of Golub & Co./CIM Group A rendering showing the under construction Vista Tower (left) and the proposed supertall addition to Tribune tower (right).

Chicago is soaring to new heights

As the birthplace of the skyscraper and home to one of the world’s greatest skylines, Chicago is in the midst of reinventing itself with new batch of very tall, high-profile towers.

When the 836-foot-tall One Bennett Park tower opened this spring, it was Chicago’s first 800-footer to be completed since 2010. Four more skyscrapers of equal or greater height are currently under construction with many more in the works.

With big name designers like Jahn, Viñoly, Pelli, Gang, Childs, Goettsch, Smith, and Gill involved, the latest generation of tall buildings is raising the bar both literally and architecturally.

Here’s a look at new class of skyscrapers that will redefine Chicago’s iconic skyline. Under construction projects are listed first followed by green-lit and finally still-pending and on-hold proposals.

This article was originally published on October 5, 2015 and has been updated to reflect the latest news.

a tall building in Almas Tower © Magellan Development Group

Vista Tower

Status: Under Construction

Currently rising along Chicago River’s main branch, the 1,198-foot Vista Tower is certainly hard to miss. Its angular design from Chicago architecture firm Studio Gang is made up of three stacks of geometric “frustums” wrapped in eight different shades of glass that emphasize its undulating form.

The supertall skyscraper will contain 406 luxury condos, a 192-room five-star hotel, and impressive amenities. Vista Tower is poised to become the city’s third tallest building and second highest roof when it opens in 2020. It is the tallest building under construction in the United States outside of New York.

a large body of water with a city in the background © Rafael Viñoly Architects
NEMA Chicago

NEMA Chicago

Status: Under Construction

Formerly known as One Grant Park, this 76-story tower is climbing skyward at the southern edge of Chicago’s skyline at the corner of Roosevelt and Indiana and brings some serious height to the South Loop. Developed by Crescent Heights and designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects with a nod to the Willis Tower’s “bundled tube” layout, the 800-unit luxury rental tower broke ground in early 2017 and will open in May.

Rising 896 feet, NEMA Chicago comes up a little short of the official supertall definition set by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. That being said, the project’s second phase does call for a taller twin tower which may exceed the magic 984-foot threshold.

a view of a city © Goettsch Partners
Bank of America Tower at 110 N. Wacker.

Bank of America Tower

Status: Under Construction

Located at 110 N. Wacker, this Bank of America-anchored office tower is approved to soar 55 stories and 820 feet along the Chicago River. Designed by Goettsch Partners and co-developed by the Howard Hughes Corp. and Riverside Investment and Development, it features a 45-foot-wide riverwalk, a public pocket park, a soaring lobby, and a serrated western facade designed to maximize water views.

Now under construction, the high-rise replaces the midcentury low-rise General Growth building. Bank of America Tower is the tallest new office building to rise in Chicago since the Two Prudential Plaza opened in 1990. It is expected to open in 2020.

a tall building in a city © Goettsch Partners/Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture
One Chicago Square.

One Chicago Square

Status: Site prep

Proposed to replace a block-sized parking lot across from Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral at the corner of State Street and Chicago Avenue, this mixed-use project from JDL Development and Sterling Bay calls for a pair of towers rising 49 and 78 stories atop a shared podium. According to the latest information from the developer, the taller of the two will top out at 969 feet.

One Chicago Square is a design collaboration between Goettsch Partners and Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture. It will contain a Whole Foods store, a Life Time Athletic club, restaurant space, commercial offices, 1,090 parking stalls, and a mix of 870 rental and condo units. Demolition and site prep began in March of 2019 and is expected take 42 months to complete.

a large tower in a city park © JAHN
1000M.

1000M

Status: Approved

This Helmut Jahn-created condo building at 1000 S. Michigan Avenue will make a sizable impact on Chicago’s southern skyline when it eventually soars 832-feet over Grant Park. The glassy 74-story skyscraper will replace a surface parking lot with 421 luxury condominiums with interiors designed by Kara Mann.

Project developers Time Equities, Oaks Capital, and JK Equities are currently pre-sales mode and have listed a number of units including a South Loop record-shattering $8.1 million penthouse. Provided pre-construction sales are strong, 1000M could break ground in 2019 and welcome residents in mid 2021.

a tall building in a city © bKL Architecture
“Parcel I.”

Lakeshore East ‘Parcel I’

Status: Approved

Across the river from 400 N. Lake Shore Drive and east of Vista Tower, this 85-story condo tower is slated for for “Parcel I” within Lakeshore East’s alphabetical master plan. Designed by bKL Architecture the glassy skyscraper will rise 950 feet above it parking podium.

The 600-unit tower was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission in October of 2018. Before work on the “Parcel I” high-rise begins, developer Magellan Group and LendLease will first complete two shorter sibling towers: a 40-story rental building at “Parcel K/L” and a 50-story condo tower at “Parcel J.” The developers expect construction on the three-tower project to take between five and seven years.

a tall building in a city © Rendering by Steelblue
Salesforce Tower.

Salesforce Tower

Status: Approved

The final piece of the three-building Wolf Point development, Salesforce Tower will rise 813 feet above the junction of the Chicago River’s north, south, and main branches. Anchored by its namesake tenant, the 60-story skyscraper is on track to break ground in 2020 and open in early 2023.

The glass Pelli Clarke Pelli-design office building will slot between the 490-foot Wolf Point West high-rise and the 660-foot under-construction Wolf Point East building. Developers Hines Interests and Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises have zoning already in place to build a 950-foot-tall tower at the prominent riverfront site.

a view of a city © Goettsch Partners
BMO Tower.

BMO Tower

Status: Approved

Another Goettsch and Riverside collaboration, this BMO Financial Group-anchored office tower will rise next to Chicago’s Union Station. The 50-story, 700-foot building will include a 1.5-acre publicly accessible park at its base above a 400-stall garage.

A key part of Union Station’s multiphase master redevelopment plan, the transit-oriented project replaces an existing Amtrak-owned parking structure. BMO Tower is on track to break ground in 2019. It will be the city’s tallest building west of Canal Street when it opens in 2022.

a view of a city © Roger Ferris + Partners
725 W. Randolph.

725 W. Randolph

Status: Approved

While a height of “just” 615 feet puts this tower well out of the running for the city’s tallest, the project headed to 725 W. Randolph Street will nonetheless make a big impact given its location in the mostly mid-rise Fulton Market District. The 52-story development is slated to become Chicago’s tallest building west of the Kennedy Expressway—eclipsing the 495-foot apartment tower at nearby 727 W. Madison Street.

Designed by Connecticut-based Roger Ferris + Partners, 725 W. Randolph will feature 370 rental apartments, ground floor retail space, an Equinox fitness club, and a 165-room Equinox-branded hotel. Related Midwest received zoning approval for the project in the summer of 2018 and hopes to break ground on the skyline-extending tower in early 2019.

a view of a city © Golub & Co./CIM Group

Tribune Tower East

Status: Proposed

At 1,422 feet, this proposed addition to Chicago’s neo-gothic Tribune Tower is gunning for the title of Chicago’s second tallest building. Slated to replace a parking lot just east of its historic neighbor, the yet-to-be-named skyscraper will contain a 200-key luxury hotel, 439 rental apartments, 125 condominiums, and 430 parking spaces.

The design from hometown architecture firm of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill is quite slender by Chicago standards—partly due to a protected view corridor requiring Tribune Tower to remain visible from the Ogden Slip to the east.

While co-developers CIM Group and Golub & Co. continue to seek city approval for their new supertall, the team is moving ahead with a conversion of the landmarked 1925 Tribune office building into luxury condominiums.

a large body of water with a city in the background © SOM

400 N. Lake Shore Drive

Status: On hold pending design changes

After years of rumors and speculation, Related Midwest unveiled its design for the site of the failed 2,000-foot Chicago Spire in in May. The plan called for a pair of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill-designed towers containing a combined 550 rental apartments, 300 condo units, and 175 hotel rooms. The duo would rise 1,100 and 850 feet atop a shared podium.

In October, downtown Alderman Brendan Reilly rejected the proposal and placed the project on hold until the Related “addressed legitimate concerns” raise by neighbors. Issues included a desire to remove the hotel component, reduce bulk of the podium, and restrict public access to the site and neighboring DuSable Park.

Related has yet present an updated design for 400 N. Lake Shore Drive. The developer was originally hoping to break ground on the towers in the summer of 2019 ahead of a 2023 delivery date. It’s unclear how the alderman’s rejection will affect the proposed timeline.

a group of people walking on a city street © Rendering by ICON, master planning by SOM, architectural contributions from ASGG and SOM
“The 78.”

The 78

Status: Master plan approved, design subject to change

While the final design of the ambitious megaproject known as “The 78” will change as potential users are identified, the multiphase plan allows for skyscrapers as tall as 950 feet—serious height considering the site’s Near South Side location between the South Loop and Chinatown.

Developed by Related Midwest and master planned by architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, The 78 received initial zoning approval from the Chicago Plan Commission in November.

Although the site reportedly came very close to landing Amazon’s HQ2 campus, work on the 62-acre mixed-use development will likely need to secure some other big corporate tenant before vertical construction kicks into high gear.

a large body of water with a city in the background © Landmark Development
The One Central development could extend Chicago’s skyline south along Lake Shore Drive across from Soldier Field.

One Central

Status: Conceptual plan

The 34-acre proposal known as One Central would cap the Metra tracks west of Soldier Field with a 50-foot-tall deck topped by multiple skyscrapers, open space, and a landscaped pedestrian bridge connecting Chicago’s South Loop to the lakefront.

The mixed-use, transit-oriented campus from Wisconsin-based Landmark Development would also include a transportation hub serving Metra, CTA, and Amtrak trains and a proposed “Chi-Line” circulator utilizing the sunken busway between Millennium Park and McCormick Place.

Although still vague and lacking specific building heights and densities, the plan offered conceptual renderings showing ten placeholder skyscrapers with some appearing to tower above the 896-foot-tall NEMA project to the north.

Considering local Alderman Pat Dowell said she thought the early One Central proposal to be “too dense and the height of the buildings too tall,” revisions are likely in the works.

Credit for this story idea and headline goes to former Curbed Chicago editor AJ LaTrace.

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