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This Year’s Best New Buildings and Developments

The world looks to Chicago for innovation in architecture and design. We certainly didn’t disappoint in 2017.

150 N Riverside   Photo: Andy Blackledge/Flickr

In a city known for its contributions to architecture and design, 2017 was no exception. And, if the dozens of tower cranes still seen throughout the city’s skyline this winter are a sign of anything, there’s plenty more to come—including a number of high-rise projects from star architects.

But which of this year’s new buildings were the very best?

We enlisted local experts to make their picks. Panelists include AIA Chicago Communications Director and editor of Chicago Architect magazine (and erstwhile Chicago contributor) Anjulie Rao, Chicago Architecture Foundation’s interim Open House Chicago manager Eric Allix Rogers, and Garrett Karp, consulting project manager for the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Best new office tower: 150 North Riverside

Beyond its wildly contemporary appearance and seemingly weightless proportions, 150 North Riverside (pictured above) has not only helped to usher Chicago’s architectural legacy into the 21st century, but it has also become a milestone in Chicago’s new wave of structural expressionism. Described as a “modern trophy office tower” by developer Riverside Investment, the 750-foot tall tower designed by Chicago’s Goettsch Partners is one part engineering marvel and one part riverfront attraction that offers one and a half acres of new public park and Riverwalk space.  — AJ LaTrace

Best adaptive reuse: Bush Temple of Music

The formerly vacant and decaying building in the heart of the Gold Coast is now a property under Cedar Street Companies’ FLATS flag of trendy microapartments. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the ornate masonry and terracotta building is most famous for being the former headquarters of the Bush and Gerts Piano Company. Chicago’s HPA Architecture led the restoration of the building’s exterior and many original interior architectural features, earning praise and accolades from preservationists and attention from real estate media.  — AJ LaTrace

Best new hotel: Viceroy Chicago

Photo: DS Shin

Developer Convexity Properties took the Gold Coast’s 1920s-era Cedar Hotel and delivered a contemporary upscale hotel that nods to its past while also looking to the future. Chicago’s Goettsch Partners—which also led design duties for the LondonHouse project—was tapped as lead architect for the project while TAL Studio designed the hotel’s posh interiors (the guest rooms, in particular, impressed our travel writer Nina Kokotas Hahn). The Viceroy set a high bar for design and adaptive reuse.  — AJ LaTrace

Best interiors: Aurélien

The 31-story Aurélien tower entered a crowded luxury rental market in River North this summer, but the tower’s highly stylized interiors by Chicago’s Studio K Creative help it to stand out from the pack. Karen Herold, a veteran interior designer for Chicago’s food and beverage scene, is a newcomer in residential tower interiors. The tower’s common areas and amenity spaces feature refined yet lighthearted finishes, helping to define a newer, more contemporary luxury aesthetic for Chicago.  — AJ LaTrace

Best historic restoration: Unity Temple

Photo: Antonio Perez/ Chicago Tribune

After a two-year, $25 million restoration, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park reopened this summer. The 1908 Unitarian Universalist church is a rare remaining Chicago-area example of a non-residential building by Frank Lloyd Wright. The top-to-bottom restoration led by Harboe Architects turns back the clock on decades of shoddy exterior concrete repair work and has transformed the run-down interior back into a goosebump-inducing architectural wonder worthy of attracting visitors from around the world. — Garrett Karp

Best new event space: Revel Motor Row

Revel’s recent transformation of this Philip Maher-designed Art Deco masterpiece into a high-end, high-capacity event space preserves its architectural legacy rather than replacing it. Previously home to the Chicago Defender and the Illinois Automobile Club, the newly renovated building with its signature clock tower features incredible architectural details, artwork, stained glass, and a 5,000-square-foot Spanish Revival-inspired interior courtyard. Along with nearby development around the McCormick Place campus, this could be just the beginning of many exciting new venues along the old Motor Row.  — Garrett Karp

Best new retail building: Apple Michigan Avenue

Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Apple’s fanatical focus on creating a distinctive customer experience has driven astronomical sales, and Foster + Partners’ new Michigan Avenue store will test just how much further that logic goes. Exquisitely-detailed stone, steel, and wood combine with impossibly vast expanses of glass to make it light and airy to the point of near invisibility. In fact, the only part of it that is recognizably a store at all is tucked neatly out of sight below ground. Oversized seating steps—those unmistakable contemporary signifiers of a space’s publicness—sweep down from what’s left of Pioneer Court towards the Chicago River. It will be interesting to see who and what they’re ultimately used for, and how the various pieces of this precious addition to Chicago’s grandest public space cohere.  — Eric Allix Rogers

Best public improvement project: Humboldt Park Formal Garden

We’re not overlooking the Lakefront—the Fullerton revetment, the Theater on the Lake overhaul, the Navy Pier flyover, and the separated cyclist and pedestrian lakefront paths to name a few—but 2017’s biggest hit with the smallest footprint took place to the west. Humboldt Park’s Formal Garden, designed by legendary landscape architect Jens Jensen in 1908, needed some serious TLC. The Chicago Park District, in partnership with the Chicago Park Foundation and the Garden Conservancy, brought on Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, known around Chicago for his work on Millennium Park’s Lurie Gardens. The resulting U-shaped garden was a summertime delight with waist-high flowers and plenty of space for prom photos. It’s another reason to count the days until spring. — Anjulie Rao

Best new boutique hotel: Ace Hotel Chicago

Photo: DS Shin

The new Ace Hotel in the Fulton Market area continues Chicago’s boutique hotel trend that serves Chicagoans as much as the tourists. Designed by GREC Architects, the hotel combines a thoughtfully designed new structure with a preserved façade, bridging the neighborhood’s historic, landmarked character with a contemporary yet tasteful aesthetic. Its sixth-floor rooftop features a landscaped outdoor prairie terrace that also serves as a venue for film screenings and local DJs.  — Anjulie Rao

Best new transit station: Washington/Wabash

Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune

The first new Loop L station in two decades, the Washington/Wabash station took years to build and came at a steep price tag: $75 million, plus the loss of the historic Madison/Wabash elevated station. Still, it’s a pleasure to use this modern, accessible, and intuitive station. Engineering and architecture firm EXP’s “Calatrava-esque” design, though perhaps a bit derivative, is elegant without being fussy, visually interesting but practical. — Eric Allix Rogers

Best new affordable housing: City Gardens Apartments

Landon Bone Baker is known for designing and advocating for affordable housing in Chicago. In 2017, the architecture firm completed City Gardens Apartments, a new mixed-income community on the Near West Side. The development is bold, using bright brickwork and colored window bays to add life to the defunct L tracks nearby. It offers public space for grilling and socializing and private-public space like back porches (oh hey Chicago). The forward-thinking design exceeds the city’s green standards, and includes raised beds for community gardens. — Anjulie Rao

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