7 South Dearborn
7 S. Dearborn St.

SE corner of Dearborn & Madison
2000-2003 NB

From Skidmore, Owings & Merrill:

This was nearly the site of the world's tallest building. A space-age skyneedle was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the architects behind the Sears Tower and Hancock Center, consisting of a cylindrical concrete spine with shafts of condominiums and offices branching off the core and digital broadcast attennas sprouting through the top. The building's 1,550 foot roof would have registered 67 feet higher than the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, which broke Chicago's heart by wresting the World's Tallest title from the Sears Tower in 1996 (see summary here). The attennas would have stretched to 2,000 feet.

The project got farther than most such proposals do--it was approved by City Council, had the existing building on its lot razed (see second picture at left, taken in April 2000), and was about to break ground before the funding officially finked out in August of 2000. It marked the second Chicago skyneedle in ten years to bite the dust because of the economy, after plans for the 1,914-foot Miglin-Beitler Tower were swept away by the recession of the early 1990s.

Before its doom, 7 South Dearborn sparked an interesting debate about whether its style would mesh with the city's character. Blair Kamin wrote (see below) that the spindly needle was an unworthy heir of signature status on the city's stocky skyline (and wondered whether the pencil-like core could withstand the city's unrelenting wind gusts). I sided with the building's architect, Adrian Smith, who asserted that the building's futuristic look and function (the attennas were to broadcast high-definition television signals) made a timely statement. "It's a different age," Smith told Kamin. "This is the age of e-mail, the Internet, and the Web. Communications is what it's all about." Chicago is a city, after all, that had an illustrious nineteenth century but a comparative letdown in the twentieth, and perhaps hanging on to its Chicago School roots too firmly would hold the city back architecturally. And metaphorically--this building would have declared to the world that the former meat-packing city will be a leader in the communications age. And although oblivion to history has made for a plight of tacky condos city-wide, I rest assured that Skidmore, Owings & Merrill had drawn up 7 South to be a faithful sibling of their Sears and Hancock. Plus, 7 South would rise from the heart of the city, a half a block from the zero-zero intersection of State and Madison, and unify the center of a skyline currently bookended by the Sears and Hancock--a tent pole, as Smith put it.

The money troubles make all of these points moot. At least until the economy picks up, and Chicago starts salivating anew over the title of World's Tallest Building. -NB

Blair Kamin:
One cannot measure a skyscraper by technical achievements alone. The best ones, like the Hancock and the Empire State Building in New York, transcend engineering and become civic art, oversized embodiments of their cities. They appear on postcards and souvenir plates, in the backgrounds of television news sets. Certainly, Sears and the Hancock--dark, muscular, even a bit menacing--vividly express Chciago's identity as a no-nonsense, blue-collar town. And that is why, at least at first glance, 7 South Dearborn seems odd--a flyweight in a field of heavyweights, more communications tower than building, all thin spire and no hefty base. In contrast to Sears and the Hancock, which are to varying degrees monolithic, its setbacks and notches split the building into clearly recognizable parts. The question is whether Smith can fuse them into an aesthetic whole. If he can, 7 South Dearborn will fulfill its potential as a shimmering beacon with a bold profile, a thing of the sky rather than of the ground. If he can't, the tower will resemble four medium-sized office buildings impaled on a spike.
-from Why Architecture Matters: Lessons From Chicago

-More about 7 South Dearborn from Skidmore, Owings and Merrill here and here
-More about 7 South Dearborn from Skyscrapers.com and GreatBuildings.com


© Copyright 2001-2003
Nathan L.K. Bierma