After Preservation Chicago declared Chicago Union Station as a 2018 Most Endangered, and following months of extensive advocacy and the avalanche of negative press following the release of the proposed seven-story addition to the top of the Chicago Union Station, the developers Riverside Investment & Development and Convexity Properties revised their vision for the project with a low-profile rooftop deck addition. “The decision to jettison the original plan is a major victory for historic preservationists,” wrote Blair Kamin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune.
During a well-attended community meeting on June 25, 2018 Ward Miller, Preservation Chicago Executive Director, received an enthusiastic round of applause when he said, “Rooflines, elevations, and interior volumes are protected under the Landmark Ordinance and we think you’re going to step over these lines. We’d like to see no building on top of this amazing station, and instead suggested transferring the additional floors to the new high-rise buildings proposed next door.” (Koziarz, Curbed Chicago, 6/26/18)
Ward Miller suggested an alternate approach be to build out an extensive rooftop terrace on the existing Union Station building, which would be directly above the proposed 330-room hotel within the historic office floors. Rooftop restaurants and lounges have proved to be incredibly popular and highly valuable assets for buildings throughout the Loop. Coupled with a hotel below, a series of rooftop restaurants, lounges, and event spaces could become a destination unto itself and powerfully reactivate one of Chicago’s greatest Landmark buildings.
Prior to the development plan revisions, Blair Kamin laid out the existential challenge to Chicago Union Station.
“When the City of Chicago granted [Union] Station official Landmark status in 2002, it buttressed its case by noting that the station is the last great historic railroad terminal still in use in Chicago; that it’s one of the nation’s most architecturally and historically significant passenger railroad stations, and that its soaring Great Hall is one of the country’s great interior public spaces.”
“So the stakes for this forlorn but beloved Landmark, designed by Chicago architects Graham, Anderson, Probst & White and completed in 1925, couldn’t be higher. Which begs this question: Are we stuck with this fourth-rate design or are Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, in whose ward the station sits, going to exercise their considerable clout and push for something better?”
Kamin described the proposed rooftop addition as one that “would plunk a squat modernist box atop the existing structure’s neo-classical pedestal. They go together as well as Rauner and Pritzker, the City Council and ethics reform”….“The seven-story addition and its 404 rental apartments would bring to the forlorn but grand train station all the grandeur of a Holiday Inn.”…. “Worse, its exterior, a skeletal metal and glass grid is at odds with the station’s carefully composed classical aesthetic. Despite the architects’ best efforts, it’s as though one era of architecture had been piled, willy-nilly, atop another.”… “The juxtaposition of past and present isn’t as violent as the spaceship-like seating bowl that’s plopped atop the classical colonnades of Soldier Field. It’s just banal, which Burnham buildings never are.”… “[The] addition design for Union Station does not inspire confidence. A building that’s part of the Burnham legacy deserves better, especially when it forms a gateway to Chicago.”