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The List

(page 9 of 10)

UBS TOWER (2001)
Lohan Caprile Goettsch (now Goettsch Partners)
One North Wacker Drive

Commercial office buildings have almost always been created with profit first and foremost in mind. So what separates classics like The Rookery from clinkers? Developers who understand that good design is good long-term business.

Chicago’s John Buck didn’t always fit into this category. In the 1980s, hoping to dazzle the real-estate market, he hired big-name out-of-town architects like Philip Johnson—and got forgettable buildings for his trouble. Later, he rashly tore down parts of North Michigan Avenue and built charmless hulks over the rubble.

But Buck got religion, largely courtesy of architect Jim Goettsch, who explains his approach to office buildings by citing the Chicago school. Not that Jim Goettsch’s recent work resembles anything from the 19th century, or even the 20th. Before One North Wacker he designed the Blue Cross Blue Shield building (1997) on East Randolph. It was successful for its graceful design, which is in full view at the north end of Millennium Park, and for practical engineering that enables a future addition on top (a project about to begin).

As developer of One North Wacker, Buck told Goettsch that he wanted a building of “dignified economy,” as the architect remembers it. In turn, Goettsch designed a strong, silvery frame holding up ethereal glass walls. Inside it’s a “smart building” outfitted for telecommunications. Outside it looks smart, too: spare, slender, and sleek.

Architectural showmanship presents itself in the cable-net glass curtain system, which provides an almost transparent division between interior and exterior space. In 2001, when it was built, it represented a highly innovative building technology. Today it transforms this corner of Wacker and Madison—once a cavernous streetscape for worker ants—into an urban glade for humans.

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