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Santiago explains it all for you





An enormous outpouring of architecture buffs and neighborhood activists come out to hear architect Santiago Calatrava and developer Garrett Kelleher present what may finally be approaching as the final design of their proposed Chicago Spire.

 -by Lynn Becker






[March 26. 2007] It's official. Chicago is in the throes of Spire-mania. Over 500 people packed two separate meetings on Tuesday to see and hear developer Garrett Kelleher and architect Santiago Calatrava present the proposed Chicago Spire, Santiago Calatrava, architect2,000-foot-high Chicago Spire, to be built on a derelict peninsula of land defined by the Chicago River to the south, the Ogden slip to the north, and Lake Michigan to the east.

Cutting through the peninsula is Lake Shore Drive, a limited access highway. The Spire would rise to the west of the drive, linking under the drive to the long-unrealized DuSable Park to the east.

While the Grant Park Advisory Council/Grant Park Conservancy, managed to upstage a previously announced session sponsored by the community group SOAR (Streeterville Organization of Active Residents), with their own lunchtime session, scheduled just last week, in the Grainger Ballroom of Symphony Center, in the last analysis the presentation there turned out to be something of a dress rehearsal for SOAR's event, where both Kelleher and Calatrava came alive to a level they hadn't earlier.

Kelleher began with an arresting account of his journey from Ireland, to Chicago, where he eventually helped pioneer the conversion of the city's old loft buildings to residential developments, and then took his profits back to Ireland just in time for explosive growth in that country's economy beginning in the late 1990's, only to find himself moving back to Chicago again for a project of a lifetime. (We'll publish more of his talk later.)

Then Calatrava sat down next to an overhead projector, explaining that the best way to explain the evolution of the Spire was "Just working as I work in my office, Santiago Calatrava drawing the site of the Chicago Spirebringing you into my office, and sitting you across from me and showing you how I would approach a thing like that, such an important thing,  (through) a balance of very simple gestures."

And then Calatrava began to make watercolor drawings. "You can think that the beginning was the lake," he said creating a single blue line at the bottom of the page, and he proceeded until all the elements of project were laid in a few simple, elegant and colorful strokes.

Calatrava then layered several objects over each other - from the cross section of a shell to a bunch of flowers. "All these things," said Calatrava, can be put into a Santiago Calatrava explains the derivation of the Chicago Spiredesign because finally what you want from all beautiful objects is just an instrument of inspiration, in order to deliver the very best for this particular case, to conceptualize the building to create a relative story around the building to deliver the building not only for functional reasons, which are very important, and for aesthetical reasons, which are very important , but to deliver to the building a soul, a soul who can be understood because there is like a message. "

"It’s like writing, or a poem, something like that.  People understand things, with a magic that even if you close a book that you left in a library, 300 years later someone opens it and gets the book, because this language is understandable.  More universalChicago Spire, Santiago Calatrava, architect than the words, themselves, because language may change, but the monument remains there.  And when you go and visit a piece of architecture you see there is a lot of the soul of the people that had been living a thousand years ago, and they are still there.  They are telling you . . . to believe in your time, because the buildings are still there."

"If you go to the Church of Pantheon in Rome," continued Calatrava, "2,000 years are facing you, and still you can enter there, and you get moved by this very beautiful place.   This is exactly the message that these people wanted to deliver.  They wanted to move us 2,000 years later."

We're still transcribing Tuesday's talks. There'll be a lot more - and a lot more pictures - in the next few days, especially a much fuller discussion of the plans for DuSable Park, as well as of some of the many still unanswered questions about the project. For the moment, here are just a few of images to come.

Santiago Calatrava watercolor of the Chicago Spire Santiago Calatrava watercolor of the Chicago Spire

Calatrava presented a series of Matisse-inspired watercolors of the lifestyle to be found inside one of the Spire's apartments .

Santiago Calatrava watercolor imagines life in an apartment in the Chicago Spire

Chicago Spire, plaza and lobby, Santiago Calatrava, architect

Chicago Spire, Santiago Calatrava, architect

Calatrava's presentation ended with a spectacular aerial animation of the Spire, its plaza, DuSable Park , and a proposed pedestrian bridge across the Chicago River, from close-up to an extreme wide angle showing the Spire taking its place in the Chicago skyline. The animation was accompanied, appropriately enough, by Dvorak's 9th Symphony, From the New World, "played by the Chicago Symphony orchestra,” a smiling Calatrava added. Pedestrian bridge and Chicago Spire, Santiago Calatrava, architect

Spire developer releases latest drawings - Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune, January 21
A new twist - Santiago Calatrava's Chicago Spire - Flash presentation, Chicago Tribune, January 21

All Chicago Spire -
All the Time

Chicago Spire, Santiago Calatrava, architect, marketing begins
Chicago Spire, Santiago Calatrava, architect

From Spire to Licorice Stick
Calatrava Spire Enshrouded in Irish Fog
Blair Kamin unveils latest design for Calatrava Chicago Spire

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Postscript: January 21, 2019

Over a decade after the Chicago Spire, derailed by the 2008 crash and developer Garrett Kelleher's illusions, wound up being little more
than a huge hole in ground, Santiago Calatrava was back in Chicago to talk about his design for O'Hare Airport's new International Terminal,
one of five finalists, including teams headed by SOM, Norman Foster, Fentress Architects and Studio/Gang for the $7.8 billion expansion project.
His interview with Crain's Chicago Business includes some of his trademark drawings, works of art in themselves.

Going back to the Spire, here's a few more of the images created on-the-fly at that Orchestra Hall session to explain his vision for the Spire.

To explain the Spire's widely spread columns, Calatrava began with his explanation with the leg of a woman wearing spiked heels.

To explain the ground plan, he began with the organic example of the seashell he had put on the projector earlier.

Included in the original deal Garrett Kelleher presented to the city, in exchange for allowing him to use a long abandoned, 3.44 acre
former industrial peninsula east of Lake Shore Drive as a staging area during construction, he would then finance a proposal - dating back
to the Harold L. Washington administration in the 1980's - to turn the site into a Calatrava-designed park honoring Chicago's first non-native resident,
Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable.

Kelleher's contribution was not enough to realize all of Calatrava's ambitious visions for the park, which included a striking pedestrian bridge.
In the end, it didn't really matter. When the Spire disappeared, it took the park with it.

In 2014, Related Midwest acquired the Spire site from bankruptcy. In May of 2019, the developer unveiled a proposal
to replace Calatrava's unbuilt Spire with two towers, the tallest 1,100 feet high. The project included $10 million for DuSable Park.
Then in October, 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly killed the proposal, citing community concerns, traffic,
a podium that cut the buildings off from the surrounding community, and the inclusion of still another hotel.

And so it goes.

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© Copyright 2007-2019 Lynn Becker All rights reserved.