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"Chicago Builders Ride Next 'Supertall' Wave - Developers in the Windy City have their eyes set on luxury residences climbing over", enr.construction.com, (c) Tudor Hampton, 03/27/06

By the end of the decade, Chicago’s bustling commercial high-rise building market will reach a pinnacle with two “supertall” towers springing up along the city’s riverfront. And yet another horse in the running may upstage all the rest with a 2,000-ft-tall twisting spire designed by architect-engineer Santiago Calatrava. If built, the slender spire overlooking Lake Michigan would easily top the 1,450-ft-high Sears Tower as the nation’s tallest. Although unlikely, it could become the world’s tallest if it succeeds the United Arab Emirates’ Burj Dubai, whose height is still top-secret.

The Calatrava building is getting closer to breaking ground than many had originally expected with an initial vote of approval from the Chicago Plan Commission on March 16. But the project has tougher hoops to jump through before it is a done deal, including a city council vote expected on March 29 and a difficult zoning and permit process that could drag on for many months. Financing also is uncertain.

Record Breaker. Calatrava's spire would soar to a new height of 2,000 ft. but financing is still up in the air. 

Calatrava’s latest concept in skyscrapers is an all-concrete building of square-shaped floors that stack onto each other in 2° horizontal offsets. The finished effect, already dubbed locally as the “drill bit,” is a 1,600-ft-tall supertall structure that twists 360° from bottom to top.

Each floor would have four concave sides and cantilevered corners. A tapering concrete core would resist wind and gravity loads, while 12 shear walls radiating from the core would provide additional support. The tower’s 300 condos, placed atop a luxury hotel, range in size from 700 to 10,000 sq ft and are expected to fetch up to $10 million each.

The 920,000-sq-ft building, which would sit on a footprint of only 14,000 sq ft, features a 50-ft-tall glass lobby, cladding of glass and stainless steel and a 400-ft-tall steel spire. “The idea is to do something very transparent,” says Calatrava.

Developer Christopher Carley of Chicago-based Fordham Co. has high hopes that the $550-million project, sited at the mouth of the Chicago River, will get under way later this year with completion in late 2009. Much of the schedule depends on how fast the builder can pour the spire’s 124 concrete floors.

“We’re hoping for a three-day pour” for each floor, says Carley, who adds that Fordham is in negotiations with local contractor Walsh Construction for the work. Walsh officials could not be reached for comment. 

Other observers are more skeptical of the Fordham Spire’s feasibility, both political and financial, in a real estate market that is hotter for smaller buildings and still stings of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City.

“I’ll believe it when I really see it,” says R. Shankar Nair, structural engineer and principal of Chicago-based Teng & Associates, Inc. His firm is developing a shorter, 1,047-ft-tall hotel and condo tower further to the west of the Calatrava spire site on Wacker Drive, near the Chicago River.

New York real-estate mogul Donald J. Trump opened the door to the new super-luxury market in Chicago with his 1,362-ft-tall hotel and condo high-rise sprouting across the river from Teng’s 90-story Waterview Tower. “Because [Trump] has shown that the project can be feasible, I think you’ll see other developers following his steps,” says Lucas Tryggestad, technical architect in the Chicago office for Trump designer Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, New York City.

The $750-million Trump International Hotel & Tower is coming out of the ground with construction manager Bovis Lend Lease and local concrete contractor James McHugh Construction Co. now framing out the second floor. The 2.6-million-sq-ft building forms a trapezoidal shape in plan and uses a concrete core and outrigger configuration. Setbacks at floors 16, 29 and 51 match the rooftops of the adjacent Wrigley Building, Marina City and IBM Building.

Trump’s entry into Chicago, set to open in 2007 with phased occupancy through 2009, will hold 472 condos as well as 286 hotel-operated condos, similar to the concept of the $430-million Waterview Tower.

When finished in 2008, the 1.3-million-sq-ft Waterview project also will house luxury hotel condos and regular condos. The building’s concrete core and outriggers will form a 140-ft-square footprint up to the 28th floor, where it will shrink into a smaller triangle shape that capitalizes on lake and city views.

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