By Blair Kamin

Architect: Pei Cobb Freed—Henry N. Cobb, George H. Miller, Michael D. Flynn, Brian P. McNally, John L. Sullivan, Que Ranne Rhee, Fintan Dunne, Julie Eng

Architect of record: A. Epstein and Sons International—Michael Damore, Thomas Scheckelhoff, Scott Marker, Weng Foong, Michael Mueller Interior architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (Pritzker spaces)—Stephen Apking, Nada Andric, Judy Fletcher Betts, Konstantin Buhr, David Davis, Peter Magill, Cynthia Mirbach, John Pickens, Elisabeth Rogoff, Annika Teig Client: Higgins Development Partners Consultants: Halvorson and Partners (structural); Environmental Systems Design (m/e/p); A. Epstein and Sons (civil); Peter Lindsay Schaudt Landscape (landscape); Weidlinger Associates (blast) Contractor: Bovis Lend Lease

Size: 1.75 million square feet Cost: Withheld Completion date: 2005


Curtain wall: Permasteelisa Glass: Viracon

Stone: W. R. Weiss Stone Systems Entrances: Crane Blinds: Hunter Douglas

For more information on this project, go to Building Types Study at

Chicago often seems positively Calvinistic in its devotion to the box, but things are loosening up. From various perspectives, the sleek stainless-steel-and-glass walls of the Hyatt Center suggest a very tall ship cruising gracefully through space. Call it the S.S. Pritzker, since it was codeveloped by the billionaire Chicago family that each year awards the Pritzker Prize and owns the worldwide Hyatt Hotel empire that is headquartered inside. In this, Chicago's first post-9/11 skyscraper, architect Henry Cobb, FAIA, of Pei Cobb Freed, has deftly integrated the new need for heightened security with his long-standing notion of "skyscraper as citizen."


The Pritzkers originally hired Foster and Partners to design a corporate headquarters with a lavish budget. But the day after the 9/11 attacks, Penny Pritzker, president of the Pritzker Realty Group, told Foster that the prospect of a major downturn in the hotel business made proceeding with his ambitious design impossible.

The Pritzkers and codeveloper Jack Higgins turned to Cobb, requesting a no-frills building that would be shared with other tenants. The brief: column-free, 33,000-square-foot floors, with 45-foot

Blair Kamin is the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune.

spans from exterior wall to core. Cobb was given four weeks to fashion a schematic design. Recalling the tight schedule, he quotes the British philosopher Isaiah Berlin: "My brain is like a taxi—it responds when hailed."


Visiting the site, a block-long, rectangular plot a bit north of the Sears Tower, Cobb immediately discerned the advantages of an elliptical plan. Not only would it create a distinct skyline presence, it would open its floors to more expansive views than the typical block-filling box. The plan would eliminate the corner office, an icon of corporate hierarchy that a prospective tenant didn't want.

The sole modification to this diagram was a six-story, rectangular bustle attached at the base that created 51,000-square-foot floors to accommodate trading rooms for a financial-business tenant, Goldman Sachs. The low block felicitously improved the proportions of the steel-framed tower.

The tower's crisply handled long elevations, with their windows set flush with the luminous, linen-patterned, stainless-steel spandrels, were created from cost necessity as much as aesthetics. "Let's face it," says Cobb, "if you're doing a budget building, keep it smooth." The striking verticality of the end walls, with their nearly solid splaying surfaces of stainless steel, counters the dom

inant horizontality of the long elevations. The visible tension in the taut, bulging skin administers the right dose of Chicago toughness.

Cobb discreetly heightened security using free-form, granite-clad planters on the plaza, shaped with Chicago landscape architect Peter Schaudt. They echo the tower's curving geometry and invisibly do double-duty as barriers to the intru-

The Hyatt Center carves out space for a ground-level plaza that ushers thousands of commuters in and out of nearby Loop rail stations each workday.

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South Franklin Street

For security, the columns of the monumental colonnade (opposite, top left) are concrete-encased inside their metal skins. The high, glass lobby walls are blast-resistant. Low entrance canopies at the juncture of the tower and the low "bustle" (left and lobby plan, below) balloon upward to 50-foot-tall, skylit vestibules accented with wall panels by British artist Keith Tyson (opposite, top right). Moving through a broad but low metal-detector zone, visitors arrive in the main lobby (opposite, bottom), with its tall bamboos augmented by soothing bubblers.

South Franklin Street

Wacker Drive

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