Witnessing the Fulton Market evolution from low-slung meatpacking district to one of the nation’s hottest corporate hubs is like watching a child grow up. Now, that child has matured to the point that it can question foregone conclusions of how it should look, feel and behave.
The neighborhood has a particular feel all its own, due in part to that genesis as a warehouse district, and because of city of Chicago guidelines directing how developments and redevelopments can behave in the historic area. Even new construction here is typically defined by red brick walls, punctuated by punched-out windows inlaid with blackened steel grids.
That’s beginning to change, however. A number of proposed or under-construction projects are finding ways to play with the “Fulton Market style,” to elevate it while remaining true to what makes the neighborhood so inviting.
Axis West at Fulton Market—a 700,000-square-foot, mixed-use project from a Ryan Companies/IBT Group joint venture—features multiple façade types, cantilevers and minimal use of brick. Another JV, Thor Equities and QuadReal, hopes that expressed diagonal bracing and tiered elevations will help 800 W. Fulton Market stand out. Trammell Crow Company’s Fulton Labs project injects a bit of Bauhaus into the neighborhood with its curved balconies.
And then there’s Fulton East, a 12-story, 90,000-square-foot office and retail property developed by Parkside Realty. The ground-up, boutique building, scheduled to open this summer, adheres to the surrounding neighborhood’s feel in a number of ways—but also deviates in some interesting and notable ones.
The most striking feature of the building is the use of Prodema wood veneer. The large panels will be applied as an articulated screen to hide the building’s parking level. However, they will also run up the building’s southern façade, covering most of that elevation and helping the building stand out in the neighborhood.
Clayco—along with in-house architecture firm, Lamar Johnson Collaborative—is leading the design-build effort for the project. They used the product previously as a soffit material on the Zurich North America headquarters in Schaumburg. There the product was tucked under the skirt of a modern glass office building; here it will be on full display as the building’s defining feature.
“Our approach was to look at what tools we have to work with—not what material it had to be, but what was critical to the neighborhood,” said Drew Ranieri, associate principal, Lamar Johnson Collaborative. “We turned some things on their head to have it seem fresh and new, but also very much a part of the neighborhood at the same time.”
This decision on how to clad the building’s exterior actually started with how the project was designed on the interior. With a small footprint to build on, Parkside wanted to deliver the most efficient floor plate possible. To do this, Fulton East has an offset core, with the elevator, stairs, mechanical runs and other essentials pushed to the side. There was an unlikely inspiration for this: the mid-century Modern masterpiece Inland Steel building in Chicago’s Loop.
“Inland Steel is one of my favorite buildings. I’ve loved it since I was a kid,” said Parkside’s chairman and CEO, Bob Wislow. “I actually tried very hard to buy it one time.”
The wood veneer spine running up one exterior wall may distinguish the building aesthetically from other Fulton Market projects, but there were nods to the neighborhood too. The offset core will give tenants floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides (avoiding the across-the-alley view of the Hoxton Hotel), with only three interior columns. These columns were poured with conical capitals on each floor, mimicking the feel of turn-of-the-century warehouses.
“Because we’re building a generational hold building, we’re willing to spend the extra money on a small boutique building,” said Wislow. “That allows us to do the kinds of things we’re doing from a design standpoint.”
On the other three sides of the building, the architecture team incorporated gridded, blackened steel elements, suggestive of the district’s pre-existing building stock. Here, too, there was some leeway in the design approach. Fulton East still has a grid quality to it, but the scale of the windows has been tweaked. Instead of an infill treatment with gridded mullions that break down smaller and smaller, the entire building, in a sense, is all window.
“If somebody said, ‘You have five minutes to design something,’ you would draw up a brick building with big openings and fill it with a gridded window,” said Ranieri. “You would get it through, get it done and nobody would complain. But we decided to take more than five minutes.”
Much of Fulton Market’s charm is the loft warehouse feel indicative of so many buildings here. It attracts young, well-educated professionals, and in turn, large corporations. Finding innovative ways to design within that system is crucial if the neighborhood hopes to keep companies, employees and even residents engaged.