Post by E. Oronia & M. McNicholas
Dearborn Street Station (sometimes referred to as Polk Street Station) sits at the intersection of Dearborn and Polk Streets on the southern boundary of Printers Row in Chicago. This former train station (now serving as retail and office spaces) is included in the National Register of Historic Places for its rich and important history, and it continues to serve as a visual and physical terminus to one of The Loop’s main thoroughfares. In addition to being a literal “landmark” with its prominent clock tower and bold red-orange brick, the station’s Romanesque architectural character sets itself apart from its surroundings in a manner that adheres to its original civic typology.
In a similar way, Dearborn Station’s neighbor buildings in Printers Row are of an architectural idiom that corresponds to the printing and publishing businesses for which they were originally constructed. When one considers the design of these buildings and connects them with their contemporary, Dearborn Station, the harmony of the relationship from one building to each other stands out in what should be a successful model for proper city building. Because the built environment is a vital part of the design of a city (along with streets, public spaces, and uses) the architecture plays an important role in how successful a city can be.
Until recently, the two lots on the north side of Polk Street, bounded, west to east, by Federal, Dearborn, and Plymouth sat vacant awaiting some form of development that would allow them to add (or detract) from the language of the neighborhood. The east lot had long-served parking needs, with historic photos even showing it as a waiting area for horse and carriage when Dearborn Station was the main passenger terminal Chicago. The west parcel has long been a wood-chip lot, hosting activities during Printers Row Lit Fest and Christmas tree sales.
Currently under construction, the east lot now hosts a new four-story single-family home with ground floor retail. The west lot has construction fencing up and is set to become a two-story building. While filling in these vacant lots is generally an improvement to the urban fabric, development in the city since the 1950s has established a long and sad legacy of ignoring Chicago’s distinct architectural character in favor of banal interventions that have eroded the complexion and personality of the city. The last ten years have been particularly unkind to the South Loop, with further real-estate-vernacular replacing older loft buildings that respected the street wall, provided appropriate scale and detail, and distinguished one neighborhood from the next.
Materials and scale are not the only factors to consider in the contribution to context, if the effort is in fact to bolster the character of a neighborhood rather than simply maximize a return on an investment or fill in an empty parcel. To that notion, we present our proposal for the (still vacant at time of writing) west lot, bounded by Dearborn, Polk, and Federal.
This proposal is one that is informed by the materials, scale, and character of the site and one whose intention is to engage and complement the architectural dialogue of Printers Row while adding to a narrative of place that was established by Dearborn Station and its neighbors (the Donohue, Franklin, Rowe, Transportation Building, and Lakeside Press to name a few). Serving the neighborhood with retail space on the ground floor, the upper stories are a mix of office and residential, both in high demand in the neighborhood. At eight stories, this proposal provides a balance to the street elevation with a similar scale as the Donohue across the street and the Rowe Building on the other side of its direct neighbor, the Franklin Building.