By Garret Eakin
Finally a steel-and-glass, 21-story residential tower worthy of its ink, now completed at the corner of Lake and Forest. This piece of architecture raises the bar for dense housing in the middle of our downtown. The target market is 30-somethings or empty-nester singles or couples who are interested in modern living in an urban village like they would find in the city. This unique option for 270 apartment units with floor-to-ceiling glass take advantage of the spectacular views of the city skyline and the charming village scale.
The development also seems to have provided the amenities these renters expect, such as a hotel-like lobby with a fireplace; a business center and conference center; a fitness center, community center and spectacular roof terrace; storage and parking; pet facilities and in-unit washers and dryers.
Gensler Chicago, the architect, took cues from the rich context to sculpt this interesting new tower. The plan did not reveal a hint of the 588-car parking garage, parking being such a common problem in the typical towers in the Loop with their exposed ugly parking bustles. The glass and aluminum skin of the building is like a layered collage that breaks down the visual bulk of the mass. The east and west elevations are intentionally interrupted with small cantilevered "zipper balconies," vertically arrayed. The rails are gold-colored glass which produce an almost too-subtle contrast.
The extreme south glass façade has butt-glazing, producing the most transparency in the most desirable units as noted by the architect. The design envisioned the materials becoming more and more solid, mimicking the double-hung windows of the private residences as it approached the traditional residential neighborhood to the north.
In theory, this is interesting and does help to reduce the scale through transitioning. In reality the changeover could have been more effective and less harsh by repeating the brick walls and tying in to the masonry walls that face the garage on the east and north.
I was pleased to see those facades are completely faced in a beautiful iron-spot Roman brick, recalling the Prairie school. Spectacular use of the brick is seen in angular storefront bay windows facing Lake Street. These rhythmic volumes tie beautifully into the scale and variety of the storefronts along the main street and as a dramatic modern extension.
I met three interns who had recently moved into the project's one-bedroom units. I asked them what were the compelling reasons that temped them to rent at Vantage? I assumed architecture would be the answer. Without hesitation they agreed the parking garage and ease of getting to the hospitals, plus, oddly enough, the convenience of an in-unit laundry. Practicality reins over aesthetics! Shocking!
The Lake Theatre managers were delighted at the thought of all these new patrons, just steps from their marquee. The real estate brokers seemed mostly interested in the food and drinks. Appalling! The architects were occupied by the beautifully landscaped courtyard — something for everyone it seems.
I was focused to the eloquent green space anchored in the center by a perfect, manicured lawn. Space for outdoor dining, lounging and partying is apparent, a space in which all the tenants would be proud to entertain. The landscape plan is simple, with little wasted space and a decidedly urban vibe. Modern steel frames and defining wood trellis seating areas are attractive and compelling without being predictable. This outdoor room is magnetic, worthy of wedding receptions, retirement parties or spectacular Air and Water Show gatherings. I predict this beautiful public space will see its share of use.
Gensler has completed a quality high-rise that will be a benchmark and enduring asset to our community. I am proud that our Preservation and Planning commissions were effectively engaged in this substantial project.
Garret Eakin is an architect, an adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute, and an architectural journalist.
Answer Book 2018
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