In 1991, back when corporations were still building massive suburban office campuses, Dirk Lohan was retained to design one for Ameritech in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. Nearly 30 years later, he is revisiting his creation as it transforms into the current ideal of suburban office.
Somerset Development has retained Wight & Company, where Lohan now practices as principal, to convert the vacant, 1.65-million-square-foot property into a mixed-use complex that will include office, co-working, retail and community space. For Lohan, it’s a rare pleasure to reexamine a building decades after its initial creation.
“I’ve long felt that buildings I’ve designed are sort of like my children and 30 years after they were created, they have their own ideas of what they want to do,” Lohan said. “It’s nice to be involved again with one of your children, to guide them and help them and give them what you’ve learned and share some of your wisdoms with them.”
Somerset plans to convert the property into Bell Works Chicagoland, a “metroburb” based on a project that they completed Monmouth, New Jersey. Wight & Company will design the building’s shell and core, public spaces and individual tenant spaces, fashioning an ecosystem of offices, shops, dining, event space and community resources.
In many ways, the site is suggestive of the shifting view that major corporations have had of the suburbs. Later anchored by Ameritech’s parent company, AT&T Corp., the Hoffman Estates site sits on 150 acres, just off of I-90 and approximately 30 miles from downtown Chicago. The property housed 5,000 employees at its height but AT&T eventually moved out in 2016.
“Today, the market doesn’t really exist for these giant corporations in the suburbs,” Lohan said. “The market for office space is smaller units and also more and more shared spaces.”
That’s the plan for Bell Works Chicagoland and Lohan’s original design should make the conversion smoother. The main building features 30-foot-wide atria running the length of the central mass. The result was multi-story offices that looked out into “interior streetscapes,” as Lohan calls them.
Though built for a single tenant, this design eases the transition into a multi-use structure. At the ground floor, along those interior streetscapes, there will be 60,000 square feet of retail and restaurants. Above that, 1.1 million square feet of subdivided offices, including space for co-working.
The idea is to create the feel of an urban center in the suburbs. Somerset’s Monmouth “metroburb” features typical office amenities like a conference and event center, but also public institutions such as a Montessori school and a public library. The ground-floor array of retail runs the gamut: gourmet food options, a florist, a dentist, a jeweler, a fitness studio and more.
Over the course of his career, Lohan has designed numerous suburban office campuses for multi-national companies. One of his most notable has been in the news lately—the former McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, which recently sold to John Paul Mitchell Systems co-founder, John Paul DeJoria, for $40 million.
DeJoria’s plans for the beautiful, expansive campus are still unknown. Though he’s not involved with any redevelopment that might occur there, Lohan believes that the site is flexible enough to fit any number of uses. It can be turned into subdivided offices or the existing kitchen equipment in the Hamburger University portion of the property can be used for a more upscale culinary school, a sort of “Filet Mignon University.”
The wooded nature of the site and proximity to more typical suburban lifestyles mean that it could even be transformed into senior housing, according to Lohan. However, the simplest solution is the best one, if the right user or users come forward
“My first choice would be if a larger corporation or two corporations could be found who want to be in there because it was designed for that and you can do that without changing anything,” Lohan said. “It’s a very easy, convenient and beautiful space with nice views into the landscape.”
That opportunity in Oak Brook exists because McDonald’s saw more value in Chicago’s hot Fulton Market District. Looking to attract and retain young talent, the food giant eschewed the suburbs just as young professionals have been for the past decade. But young professionals won’t stay young forever; as they age and start to form families, they may want to return to the suburbs just like the generations before.
“I do see a need and a desire in the suburbs to create smaller urban centers where you can actually walk to a restaurant or to a bar or a shop and you don’t have to do everything by getting into your car. That, in my opinion, is what’s lacking in so many suburbs and why the young people want to get away from it,” said Lohan. “What we’re doing in Hoffman Estates, while it is in one building, it is so large that it is a small urban center where people can do just that.”
This isn’t Lohan’s first experience returning to a major project decades later. He was a young architect working for his grandfather, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, on the design of the IBM Building, now known as AMA Plaza. Located at 330 N. Wabash Street in Chicago, the building suffered massive vacancies when IBM sold the tower and moved out in 2006.
Lohan was asked to return to the landmark building, to convert former offices into what would become the Langham Hotel. The five-star hotel quickly became the go-to luxury destination for travelers to Chicago.
Part of the hotel’s appeal is that, because the original tower went up with five-foot office modules, each hotel room is 15 feet wide with floor-to-ceiling windows—an almost unheard of layout for hospitality space. But none of it would have been possible without the ingenuity to reimagine a classic.