Frank Gehry remodeling Inland Steel?

Bet that got your attention.  The iconic Chicago skyscraper has been under the knife the last few weeks with precious little information about what’s been going on.  The stainless steel Bertoia sculpture in the lobby was removed in May and the Monroe Street lobby has been a construction site ever since.

The Architect’s Newspaper finally reported last week that the renovation is being done at the behest of a new owner’s syndicate, which includes Gehry as an investor and New York firm Capital Properties.  Gehry isn’t touching the design, though, leaving that to SOM, who not only designed the original but occupied several floors in it until the early 1980s.  Plans call for mechanical upgrade and permanent interiors that, by eliminating the waste of constant design changes, will help the building earn LEED Platinum status.  SOM is restoring the lobby to its original design, and the new owner syndicate worked to place the building on the National Register, qualifying it for federal funds to aid in the restoration.

Most provocatively, reports say that the design originally called for replacing the building’s single-layer glass facade with a ventilated, double skin.  While this was abandoned for preservation (and, likely, cost) reasons, Walter Netsch’s original design called for a second layer of glass on the exterior of the building’s outboard columns, with ductwork and plenums in between.  When the project was taken over by Bruce Graham, this innovative strategy disappeared–quickly–but it’s interesting to note that this would have been the first major skyscraper with such a ventilated skin, predating the Occidental Chemical Building in Niagara Falls, NY by a good 22 years.  While it’s comforting to see that the design plans aim at restoring the original intent–in line with recent renovations of Mies’ 860-880 Lake Shore Drive and Crown Hall–it’s worth wondering whether considering Netsch’s original intent might be more faithful and, possibly, interesting as an active renovation.

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