The Chicago Spire Emerges Below Ground

By Tom Hale | September 28, 2010

The Chicago Spire, the most significant residential development in the world, is emerging on a site near the intersection of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. Deep foundation work is proceeding on this spectacular 2,000-foot twisting tower that will dramatically change the Windy City's skyline.

Designed by Spanish architect and engineer

Case Foundation Co. excavated a 104-foot-diameter 
cofferdam 78 feet deep for the foundation of 
The Chicago Spire, and is constructing a perimeter wall.

Santiago Calatrava, The Chicago Spire will be the world's tallest exclusively residential building and the tallest building in the western world upon completion in late 2011/early 2012. In addition, it will be the most slender super-tall building in the world, based on a base-to-height ratio approaching 1-to-10.

Rising 150 stories, the twisting tower will house 1,194 unique residences with the finest amenities available anywhere in the world. Each level in the seven-sided structure will rotate an average 2.44 degrees between floor plates, giving the structure its distinctive fluid appearance; the building will turn a total of 360 degrees.

Calatrava is known for his ability to create public landmarks on a grand scale, and he has used his expertise to create a building that showcases cutting-edge architecture, engineering and construction. The Chicago Spire is destined to be an iconic structure.

"Santiago Calatrava's design is an organic form that was conceived in response to the building's location and its juxtaposition with the city," says Niall Collins, project director for Shelbourne Development Group. "The shape of the building is a solution for a number of factors — to maximize the aspect of the units as they are arranged on the floor plates, and equally to address other engineering challenges like wind and deflection."

Rising 150 stories, the twisting tower will house 1,194 unique residences. (Rendering courtesy 
Shelbourne Development Group/Santiago Calatrava)

Calatrava is serving as lead architect/engineer for the concrete and steel structure, which will sport high-performance glass on its exterior. One of the world's most influential architects, Calatrava initially made his name building bridges throughout Europe and is known for such highly-creative designs as the Milwaukee Art Museum and the "Turning Torso" in Malmo, Sweden — the tallest building in Scandinavia. He's also responsible for the Velodrome designed and used during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. In 2005, he was awarded the American Institute of Architect's Gold Medal — its highest honor.

Other principal design team members involved with The Chicago Spire include Perkins+Will, architect of record; Thornton Tomasetti, structural engineer; and Cosentini Associates, mechanical/electrical engineer.

A Strong Foundation

Construction of The Chicago Spire is taking place on a 2.2-acre site bounded by Lake Shore Drive, Ogden Slip, Lake Michigan, and the Chicago River. The building will feature 1.9 million square feet of residential space, and residents will park their vehicles in a garage that reaches seven levels underneath (with six floors — 11.6 acres — of usable parking space for 1,350 cars). The parking garage will be the deepest underground parking structure in Chicago.

Additional components of the project include a 1-acre landscaped public plaza and newly constructed ramps from lower Lake Shore Drive that will give the building its own Lake Shore Drive access.

Initial work on the foundations began in July 2007 when Case Foundation Co., Roselle, Ill., began drilling the first of the 34 caissons (14 perimeter caissons and 20 rock caissons) that support the building. The caissons are being drilled 120 feet deep into the bedrock.

"The testing that was done on the rock caissons succeeded anything else that has been done in the United States, certainly in Chicago," Collins says.

Under its foundation contract, Case crews excavated a 104-foot-diameter cofferdam 78 feet deep to create a dry work environment, and began constructing a perimeter wall 3 feet wide and about 80 feet deep. "The perimeter component, the bathtub, is being formed with a combination of slurry walls and secant pile walls, and is obviously designed to keep out the water on three sides of this project," Collins says.

"Ninety-eight bell caissons are being constructed right now that will support the garage elements," he adds. The top-down construction of the plaza and garage will begin after this underground phase is completed in July.

Inside The Chicago Spire

Calatrava designed each of the homes in The Chicago Spire to be unique, so no two units are alike. The collection of residences includes a Calatrava signature unit called a Gallery. Larger in size than a suite, the Gallery features a custom-designed circular bed enclosure with sliding glass doors to provide a separate sleeping area and wood wall panels to cover sections of ceiling.

With 10-foot ceilings and windows combining vertical and trapezoidal glass panels, residences will provide breathtaking views of the lakefront, skyline, city neighborhoods, and four states (Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan). Materials for the residences have been carefully chosen from a natural palette and include: wide-plank herringbone hardwood floors, elegant granite, marble and onyx stone, crafted European cabinetry, integrated American and European appliances, and European plumbing fixtures.

Lobby and amenity space will occupy the lower floors of The Chicago Spire. The 53-foot-high transparent lobby will feature Calatrava's sinusoidal motioned maple ceiling. The lobby's footprint will measure 15,220 square feet.

The Chicago Spire will also include approximately 55,000 square feet of amenity space on floors four through seven. Amenities include a recreational pool, fitness center with basketball court, climbing wall, golf simulator, cigar room, residents' library, children and teen games area, private movie screening theater, business center and conference room, and private dining rooms.

Aiming For Gold

Conceived as an environmentally sensitive project, The Chicago Spire will incorporate world-class sustainable engineering practices to meet the Gold standard of LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification. These practices include: recycled rainwater for landscaping maintenance; river water for cooling; special glass to protect migratory birds; bike storage; planting and development of parkland; underground parking to reduce environmental impact and heat gain; incorporating Intelligent Building & Energy Management System to provide efficient use of resources while optimizing comfort; waste storage and recycling management; monitoring outdoor air delivery to maximize occupant comfort; and being 15 percent more efficient than current energy regulations.

"We are aiming for LEED Gold," says Collins. "Calatrava has done a lot of projects in Europe where it has become an everyday event to have a LEED-type building and to incorporate sustainable components into the design. Some of the components in The Chicago Spire are elements that are disguised behind the facade or within the guts of the building."

Among its many engineering achievements, The Chicago Spire will have the world's longest elevator run at 1,864 feet. The building will be serviced by 17 elevators (14 passenger elevators in four banks, and three freight/fire elevators).

Gearing Up For MultiYear Project

Shelbourne Development Group anticipates a large on-site workforce during the multiyear project. "We are anticipating in excess of 2,000 workers at the complete peak of activities between shell and core and the finishes," says Collins. "So, there will be a small village of people."

"And that doesn't event count the people involved in the creative process on the other side," says Kim Metcalfe, a project spokeswoman. "The intellectual capital that comes into Chicago from all corners of the globe to plan the various portions of the building to the minutia is amazing. So, not only will there be a small village building this building, but you literally have the most amazing brains working on this project from almost every country."

Approximately 50 lead consulting firms are participating in the construction of The Chicago Spire, and they are joined by hundreds of subconsultants. "It takes a massive team," Collins says.

Shelbourne Development Group, which has offices in Ireland, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, is overseeing every element of the project. "We are very much a hands-on type developer," Collins says.

Collins, a 15-year development professional, says Shelbourne and other members of the project team are excited to be involved with the landmark building. "It is a fantastic project," he says. "For me, it is the top of my career for the moment to be involved in a project like this. It is a dream for anybody in real estate or development to have an association with The Chicago Spire. Everybody is passionate about delivering the project."