six proposals to replace chicago's spire - the tower that never was
six proposals to replace chicago's spire - the tower that never was six proposals to replace chicago's spire - the tower that never was
jan 31, 2015

six proposals to replace chicago's spire - the tower that never was

six proposals to replace chicago’s spire- the tower that never was

image courtesy of chicago tribune




over a decade ago, an ambitious project was undertaken by developer garrett kelleher to construct a 2,000 foot twisting tower designed by calatrava near the south bank of the chicago river. as fate would have it, ‘the spire’ came along with budgetary issues and left the developer in over 100 million dollars in debt, forcing him to cede the property to local developers related midwest.  so here they are, faced with a 76-foot deep circular foundation in the ground that was to support several thousand feet of unrealized potential- so what’s the solution? the developers picked 5 local architecture firms (SPACE architects + planners, VOA, solomon cordwell buenzurbanlab, and CLUAA) and one landscape firm (hoerr schaudt)  and posed the question: what would you put in a 76-foot deep hole?


each studio came up with diverse and creative solutions to make a failed dream into a productive architectural site for the community.




proposal 1: ‘mine the gap’
studio: SPACE architects + planners
lead designers: jean dufresne, jay keller, ron dean, roy donoso, arash irani, and mark pearson

chicago spire news designboom
image © SPACE architects + planners



the proposal takes the opposite stance to the original design- to utilize all the existing infrastructure below the ground instead of building above it. their design envisions a large vertical open-air venue set below grade so that the sound is concentrated within the void. a retractable canvas roof at the top provides shade and cover from weather, while a trellised wind turban system reaching the tallest points of the structure produces enough energy to power the entire system.

presentation board 1
image © SPACE architects + planners



presentation board 2
image © SPACE architects + planners




proposal 2: ‘birds in horto’
studio: hoerr schaudt
designer: peter schaudt



as the only landscape firm participating in the design charrette it is no surprise that the designers took to the more environmental and climatic aspects of the site, which just happens to be a key point along a flight path frequented by some five million birds annually. the structure is conceived as a ten-story light-weight steel and wood trellis vortex emerging from a now inundated concrete pit surrounded by a veritable garden of native vegetation providing much needed sustenance to the transient avian species that will visit the site. an elevated walkway across the site will allow visitors to pass through this wild habitat without directly disrupting it, turning the concrete footprint into a lush garden within the ‘city in a garden.’ as designer peter schaudt explains in chicago mag, ‘it’s an oasis in the middle of the city, not only for people but for birds.’

image © hoerr schaudt




proposal 3: ‘the urban island’
studio: VOA
lead designer: michael day

image © VOA



being located in a currently underwhelming area of the city on the fringe of the vibrant downtown area, the architects decided to activate the space by connected it to the existing infrastructure of the downtown area and brand the site as an extension of public space from which you can get a new vantage point of the lakefront skyline. as architect michael day explains, the project consists of ‘a pedestrian/bike bridge connecting to existing paths, a public market tucked under lake shore drive, an arts center and an observation structure atop hydroelectric power and water filtration systems in the spire’s void.’ a curving bridge connects the various modes of transport, both public and private, fast and slow, to the existing veins of chicago’s transportation systems, touching down at various points along the site to allow visitors to easily access the various functions with ease. the existing void in the ground is topped with a mobius-like sculptural structure that beckons visitors to wander around it taking full advantage of the site. the empty foundation in the ground will serve as a water filtration and education structure whose usability extends well into the future. the rest of the property on grade, currently a vast slab of concrete, will house a rich marketplace like a local bazaar filled with people and culture.

curving bridge connected to chicago’s downtown
image © VOA



image © VOA




proposal 4: ‘the chicago beacon’
studio: solomon cordwell buenz
designer: devon patterson
image © solomon cordwell buenz




the only project that will actually use the existing foundation to build upwards is the ‘chicago beacon’ by solomon cordwell buenz. the condominium tower is based around a spiraling triangular glass facade that forms a structure unlike any in the area. at the base, several levels of vertical gardens seep onto the surrounding site, forming a 1,280 ft residential tower in the middle of a garden. the greenery in the tower is not just for an integration of vegetation within the man-made environment, but is actually designed for residents to grow fruits and vegetables. the reflective nature of the facade and angled rooftop acts as a large mirror that creates a landmark for boats and pedestrians alike.




proposal 5: ‘the swimming hole
studio: urbanlab
designers: martin felsen and sarah dunn



what better way to utilize a water-side 76 foot pit than to turn it into an immense swimming pool? the structure itself continually siphons and filters water from the lake, cleaning it and returning it to the environment. meanwhile, an immense wading pool suddenly drops to waist level before emerging into the heart of the existing void, creating an almost hot spring-like oasis in chicago.
image © urbanlab




proposal 6: ‘the high tech hot tub’
studio: CLUAA
designers: clare lyster and alejandro saavedra
image © CLUAA




the final proposal cleverly utilizes the structure and the surrounding water to power several functions at once without using too much energy. why not use the large void to house a sizeable data center? centrally located but hidden from above grade, the existing foundation structure can house plenty of storage units and can easily span fiber optic cables to other great lake cities. the surrounding water naturally cools the technology without the use of excess energy to regulate temperatures artificially. once the water is heated from the servers, it is circulated to the surface where visitors can enjoy a hot tub heated by the machines below them. one system powers another, and is recycled all over again without pollution- the hot tub is really the byproduct of server cooling.


  • A 2000 ft building is replaced by this?! Bottom feeders…

    Kam says:
  • Hope that they can do some version of the high-rise. The rest of the current proposals are rather a terrible waste of valuable urban space. The proposal with the ‘Birds in Horto’ does not provide visual stimulation for the rest of the city, but it provides valuable support to the Avian community. It would seem as though a high-rise set within a site that devotes 2/3, or at least 1/2, of its ground space to the Avian community could be the most beneficial to all concerned.

    Ron Smith says:
  • Chicago has lost its vision, too many regulations and taxes preventing anything 2000 ft tall getting built.

    Augutus Foster says:
  • Hi, I believe Chicago needs a new landmark, so you could try to finish the Spire or build an even more outstanding one.(taller and grander) The city needs more skyscrapers. So please take this idea into consideration. Thank you.

    ethan says:
  • We are a skyscraper city. We need our 2,000 ft building.

    Rick says:
  • The Spire needs to be finished. America would be remembered holding the tallest building in the western hemisphere. The Spire would be a great addition to Chicago.

    Zach says:
  • I hope they build the 2000 ft. spire. The design is flawless and it complements the Chicago skyline greatly and grandly.

    WilliamAct says:
  • Build TALL please. We need 2000+

    Thomas says:
  • Chicago need to build the Spire … Chicago is the birthplace of the modern skyscraper and there are few cities that can come even close to comparing to it’s magnificent skyline views. Adding the Spire to the skyline would not only add to the views but would attract architectural connoisseurs from all over the world.

    RONSAL says:
  • Can’t we have one small patch of land that is not developed to the sky? I like the idea of the aviary. Something everyone can enjoy, environmentally friendly, relaxing and unique. It would not place the demands on site as would yet another skyscraper. Go birds!

    maureen says:
  • I live in Los Angeles, and even I know that the 2,000 foot tall Spire would have made the great city of Chicago even better. I love visiting Chicago, and it is not just for the Red Hot’s, or its citizens, but for the Willis (Sears) tower. It would be awesome if Chicago could take the title back for the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The Willis Tower set the standard for new buildings around the world, but that was then. I think it is time to reestablish itself as the great city it is, now and well into the future.

    Eric says:
  • Chicago friends take heart. The Willis tower IS the tallest building in the western hemisphere. The new One World Trade Center in New York is a phony with height exaggerated by including the decorative spire on the roof. Put the two buildings side by side and anyone standing on the roof or looking out the top floor windows of the Willis would be looking down on the roof of the Trade Center. And here’s another vote hoping that somehow somebody however unlikely finds a way to build the Chicago Spire as originally designed by Calatrava. What a magnificent building it would be!

    Rob Nichols says:
  • Build the Spire as intended and make it the tallest building in North America – as intended. Change the name to do what it takes for the legalese, but get it done the way it was intended and show the world our commitment and perseverance. Remind everyone that this is the birthplace and home of the skyscraper. Set the bar yet again. Get it done. This is America!

    PJC says:
  • I am not a fan of skyscrapers, but the Chicago Spire designed by Calatrava is magnificent. What a wonderful addition it would be to the Chicago skyline. I hope it is completed.

    Gary Meeks says:
  • If i had to choose which one of these should be built i’d vote formine the gap that would be awesome to see a show below groudn.

    JAH says:
  • the Chicago Beacon should be most desired. the multi-purpose nature-futuristic approach is beautiful and compliments the skyline, plus the indoor farming can benefit the small community.

    dan says:
  • We have to be courageous enough to finish the vision. The Spire needs to be built. Everything else is far too underwhelming.

    Tiff says:
  • building the spire would restrict many views of the river from many populous areas. the trump tower would not be too excited for the spire project. i favor a plaza-type project over another multi-million dollar high-rise that the city of chicago does not need.

    rece says:
  • Building giant monuments within a city stricken with poverty is absurd. The most vital and impressive thing about Chicago is the continued effort originally penned by Daniel Burnham: “The waterfront belongs to the people. Not a foot of its shores should be appropriated to the exclusion of the people.” This is why public space ought to continue to win out, not another empty ego-centric monument.

    Tom says:

have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.
all comments are reviewed for the purposes of moderation before publishing.

comments policy
designboom's comment policy guidelines
generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

- please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
- please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
- please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
- please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
- please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
(there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
the best 100-200 entries too.)

a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.


a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

architecture news

keep up with our daily and weekly stories
502,379 subscribers
- see sample
- see sample