Facadeconomics

The Chicago Tribune today editorialized that the Commission on Chicago Landmarks should have approved the skin job on North Michigan Avenue’s Farwell Building, buying the rationalization that it needed the economic generator of the superhigh Ritz Carlton condo tower in order to save a very badly deteriorated facade.

Fact: facade is badly deteriorated and needs a lot of money to fix.

Fact: the proposal before the Commission was NOT DESIGNED TO DO THAT.

The proposal was designed to build a big Ritz Carlton tower with loads of parking and ease of access for construction. Clearly Prism has never built in Manhattan because part of the reason the Farwell had to go was staging the construction and the other part was parking.

The logic is sort of like “your leg is broken so we are going to replace your heart and liver.” The Tribune bought the idea that “The City and Prism worked closely for more than a year and considered eight or nine scenarios”. Not so. A year ago a previous Planning Commissioner told Prism they could have what they wanted. The Trib says a stand-alone boutique hotel was looked at and wouldn’t work. WRONG.

It would work, but it wouldn’t give the owner (not Prism but the former Terra Museum, now a well-endowed foundation) as much money. Here is the economic reality at the heart of most landmarks “hardship” cases: I only make a million dollars instead of 3 million, Or, I only make 20 million instead of 50 million. Slice that flippin’ salami however you want, it ain’t a hardship. Yes, it is one of the worst facades engineers have ever seen. That doesn’t mean you solve it with a program conceived and designed for a clear site.

Right now my friends at the AIA in Washington are discussing how architecture schools can incorporate preservation by understanding existing buildings as sustainable resources that are factored into the design and program from the start. It seems here that the Farwell was an obstacle from the start.

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