Developers propose hotel, apartments above Chicago’s Union Station, but not everyone is happy with the concept

union station critics
Critics generally dislike the proposed seven-story addition planned for Chicago's Union Station

Architects Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB) has unveiled the latest design version for the Union Station redevelopment, underwhelming several critics. The proposed seven-story structure is part of ambitious multi-stage redevelopment for the historic train station and adjacent Amtrak property.

The latest version, replacing an earlier design, would add 330 hotels to the building’s top floors, as well as 400 rental apartments in a donught-shaped expansion.

Amtrak last year selected a joint venture of Riverside Investment & Development and Convexity Properties to develop the site. The developers hope to break ground on the first part of the expansion in the second quarter of 2019, with construction taking 18 months. They indicate that a second-phase office tower could follow in late 2019 or later.

Architect Daniel Burnham designed the original station in the 1920s, engineering the structure for a vertical expansion. A 2002 landmark designation called for any expansion to be “compatibly designed but differentiated” from the original Beaux Arts design.

The latest design calls for new entrances on Adams Street, Jackson Boulevard, and Clinton Street, also restoring windows destroyed and blocked-out after a 1980 fire.

However, not everyone is happy with the concept. Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin described the design as “banal,” “top-heavy,” and as if “one era of architecture had been piled, willy-nilly, atop another.”

At a July meeting to review the new design, Ward Miller of Preservation Chicago outlined concerns over the project’s “incompatible” qualities.

“Rooflines, elevations, and interior volumes are protected under the landmark ordinance and we think you’re going to step over these lines,” Miller said. “We’d like to see no building on top of this amazing station.” He suggested transferring the additional floors to the new high-rise buildings proposed next door.

These two critics aren’t the only unhappy reviewers.

Elizabeth Blasius of the Architect’s Newspaper, designer Edward Keegan in a Crain’s op-ed column, and several social media critics have expressed objections.

Alderman Brendan Reilly said that the initial meeting represents the beginning of the approval process and reaffirmed his commitment to use the development to address traffic issues.

The development team offered a few details regarding the project’s second phase at the meeting. In general, the idea is for an office high-rise slated to replace the 1,700-stall parking garage south of the station, with 1.5 million sq. ft. of office space and 800 parking spaces.


  1. Can somebody just look at the picture of this Union Station proposal and say that’s what they want to look at and what they want tourists to see as representative of the city? Are we trying to replace Kaliningrad as the city of worst architecture? First Soldier Field, now this thing? Really? There must be a better design out there someplace.


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