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Chicago: Skyscrapers, Pizza, and Mies! The 503 Studio Trip to the Windy City

Mies, Wright, Gehry, SOM, and more!

Written by Sam Miller, Joseph Burns, and Kris Chan


The studio in front of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (lovingly called The Bean) in Millennium Park.


The spire site, with the massive 8 story cofferdam that was to be the building’s core.

Students and instructors from the Burns/Miller Studio recently travelled to the Windy City to see their project site, attend lectures by local engineers and architects, and take in the architectural wonder that is Chicago. Instructor Joe Burns, the Barry Onouye Distinguished Chair, organized three full days of activities based out of his office at Thornton Tomasetti. Co-instructor, Sam Miller, partner at LMN, participated as did Dave Miller for the first day. Highlights of the trip included a construction site visit to a highrise residential project, a talk by Chicago architect Mark Sexton about politics and design, and a guided tour of the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier.

In this studio, students were given a choice between designing a residential skyscraper or a children’s museum on the abandoned site of Calatrava’s 2000 foot Spire building. After an intense 10 day masterplan period, students packed up and went to Chicago to explore the site and see some of the most famous and well known buildings in America. While there, the students presented their proposed master plans for the project site to the leadership team of Midwest Related, the developer that owns the site, and received insightful comments on their proposals. In addition to the incredible feast of architectural treasures, the group savored local offerings like Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza with the crisp fall weather ideal for walking the streets. The City did not disappoint.


Trump Internationl Tower, by SOM, center, on The Chicago River.

Mies 4

The IBM Building designed by Mies, notice the trademark steel beams!

Construction Tour

Touring 111 Wacker, a residential tower under construction by Related Midwest.

The studio arrived in Chicago on Saturday, October 5th, and met up with Chair David Miller to start the field trip at the top of the Hancock Building at 10pm. The view finally cleared up and the Chicago city lights were ablaze for miles. Good drinks and a great view, what else could you ask for? Everyone met up at 500 N. Lake Shore Drive Sunday morning for a tour of the newly completed residential tower by Nick Anderson of Midwest Related, the developer. The project is 2 blocks north of the Spire Site, and we got a great view of the site from the penthouse level, and a great tour of the entire tower, including MEP rooms and rooftop equipment. We then walked north through Streeterville to visit the iconic 860-880-900-910 LSD towers designed by Mies van der Rohe in the 1950′s, then back south through the Northwestern medical campus to the Chicago Spire site, observing it from the bridges and waterways that surround it. After lunch in Lakeshore East, the studio met up at SOM for a tour, and rehearsal of the master plan presentations. We were not allowed to photograph inside the SOM office, but we can assure you, it was an architecture student’s paradise with gorgeous conceptual and physical models made of plexi, wood, copper, and metal. Sam and several of the students met up with Joe late that evening at DePaul’s new Theatre School, recently completed by Pelli Clark Pelli, for a tour by the school’s dean, a beautiful new theater set in an urban context.

Home base for Monday and Tuesday of the field trip was Thornton Tomasetti’s Chicago office in Mies van der Rohe¹s IBM Building (recently renamed the AMA Building). The technical lectures at Thornton Tomasetti’s included a talk by Joe Burns on the history of tall building structures in Chicago, and he was joined by Bill Walton of GEI to talk about Geotechnical engineering in Chicago and explaining a major excavation failure in Dubai. Bob Forest then joined us to discuss project management and firm management. Bob is one of the founder of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, and has extensive international experience in large projects around the world. Rob Bolin of Syska & Hennessey gave a talk over lunch on MEP systems for highrise towers and museums. We all took taxis to the Chicago Children’s Museum (CCM), where we received a tour by Amy Spar, Architectural director for the museum, and then a walk through Streeterville and River North to Kreuck & Sexton’s office, where Mark Sexton discussed their design efforts with CCM since 2007, a major controversy in Chicago. We finished the day with a tour of 111 W. Wacker, the latest project developed by Midwest Related, in which they are building a 60 story residential tower atop the remains of a 90 story failed development, that reached 28 stories before stopping in 2008. We then walked east along the Chicago River to revisit the spire site, this time from the West.

Chicago Skyline

The view from 500 Lake Shore Drive, the Hancock Tower off in the distance, and the last Fazlur Kahn designed building on the left.


The view from the DePaul’s new theater school.

Touring 500 Lake Shore Drive 2

Touring a 64th floor penthouse unit in 500 Lake Shore Drive.


The studio in front of Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Gehry in Millennium Park.


LSt (Lake Shore Tower) masterplan presentation to Related Midwest (the developer).

Tuesday morning we re-convened at Joe’s office, and began with a new video just released by the NY Times: A Short History of the Highrise Building (http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/high-rise/)….then heard about Building Skin design from Edward Peck and Alloy Kemp of Thornton Tomasetti, and then Jeff Harper of Rolf Jenson Assoc. discussed Life Safety design of high-rise building and museums. We then walked through River North to the offices of Midwest Related where our three master plan teams made brief presentation to their development team for the Chicago Spire Site, including their president Kurt Bailey. Our teams received some good feedback, as well as complements on the quality of the work completed in the last 10 days.

Having finished our presentations to the developers the last bit of business was a studio meeting to choose Residential Tower or Museum, and associated master plans, to develop for the remainder of the quarter. We then all grabbed our bags and went our separate ways back to Seattle. A packed trip to Chicago with a bit of everything. Stay tuned to our progress and come visit our studio upstairs in Arch Hall!

Aqua Tower 2

Studio Gang’s Aqua Tower

Mies 2

Mies’ Crown Hall, the architecture building at IIT.


One of the iconic Lake Shore Drive buildings designed by Mies.





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