Office N Illinois

Turning the modern office on its side

Turning the modern office on its side,ph1

For 25 years, Chicago was home to the world’s tallest building. Bigger is still better for today’s office tenants—just not necessarily taller. Looking to offer the large floor plates that users crave, one megadevelopment will incorporate something unique to the city: the sidescraper.

Related Midwest has begun infrastructure work on The 78—the riverfront site between the Loop and Chinatown that has sat bewilderingly undeveloped for nearly a century. At the center of this master plan is a flagship sidescraper, a low-rise, horizontal office building that will offer expansive rentable floors.

There is precedent here. The Merchandise Mart packs 4 million square feet mostly into 18 stories. The Old Post Office—which tops out at only 215 feet but spans three city blocks—is undergoing a massive redevelopment that has already secured numerous top tenants.

But the opportunity to create a ground-up sidescraper—in a greenfield site that will expand the scope of the CBD, no less—is almost too attractive to pass up. That’s why Related Midwest has made a sidescraper central to The 78. Not only will users desire the expansive floor plates in this particular property, but the building will have implications for the entirety of the 62-acre development.

“What’s interesting about the sidescraper is not only does it work as an individual building, but because it is centrally located in the master plan it can create better connections throughout the site,” said Ann Thompson, AIA, senior vice president of architecture and design, Related Midwest.

The megadevelopment’s name, The 78, is a call to action to create the city’s 78th neighborhood. That means creating opportunities not just for office but also residential, retail, entertainment and other uses. The centerpiece sidescraper would cultivate that diversity, creating connections by which the site’s residents, employees and visitors can interact with the river, with a new park and with the variety of commercial uses.

The sidescraper

Today’s corporate tenants want large, open floor plates that provide opportunities for more collaboration and to attract top talent. The sidescraper, designed by SOM, would deliver on that, with up to 85,000 square feet of rentable space per floor.

The building’s position—along the Chicago river as well as a new park that Related Midwest will develop—will take advantage of the impressive views. These will be maximized by a series of terraced setbacks. A connection to the outdoors isn’t implied, it’s very real as companies and their employees will have access to open space right outside their office.

“We have a workforce now that is changing the way our offices look and feel. They don’t always sit at a desk and they don’t always work the way our parents did years ago,” Thompson said. “There is exposure on three sides to green space which is so important because these terraces really are an extension of the workplace.”

The sidescraper will also have a green rooftop that, due to its low-slung profile, will be much larger than those that are incorporated into typical high-rises. The building’s typology also offers easy in, easy out access for workers who can choose their own point of egress from multiple floors, taking shortcuts in practically any direction.

Of course, there is a tradeoff. Constructing a building such as this means that, for this particular footprint, Related Midwest won’t be able to squeeze in the maximum FAR allowed for the site. Density wasn’t the main driver here, however, as the opportunities for sizable floor plates, access to the outdoors and better integration of the entire campus made a sidescraper the ideal property type.

“As developers, we are always looking to strike a balance and achieve some sort of maximum return,” Thompson said. “However, it’s not merely the value of the square footage but the quality of the space.”

The megadevelopment

Bounded by Clark Street, Roosevelt Road, 16th Street and the Chicago River, the 78 truly is a blank canvas up on which Related Midwest can manifest a true live-work-play neighborhood. The sidescraper is designed to encourage interconnectivity across the whole of the development.

“It’s pretty interesting how all these buildings will work with each other,” Thompson said. “They are all connected to the open spaces that will allow for gathering and play—connections that we are trying to foster because that really plays an important role in creating a unique, 24-hour place.”

The 78 will include a half-mile extension of the riverfront with cafés, promenades, bike paths and other cultural amenities. To the east of the sidescraper there will be a seven-acre Crescent Park that traces the original contours of the river before this leg of it was eventually straightened.

At the center of the campus will be the sidescraper, with pass-throughs for pedestrians to get to the river, to the park, to the office, to a restaurant or to home.