Famed architect Cesar Pelli’s firm to design South Loop arena

Famed architect Cesar Pelli’s firm to design South Loop arena

Architecture firm Pelli Clarke Pelli was selected Monday to design the new $195 million McCormick Place Event Center that will double as home for the DePaul Blue Demons basketball program.
The selection of the internationally-respected firm was aimed at easing public and community concerns that the spot picked for the center—a Near South Side site between McCormick Place and a residential neighborhood that contains the Prairie Avenue Historic District—was ill-suited for a big 10,000-seat arena.
Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority CEO Jim Reilly, whose agency in June retooled its search for architects in hopes of getting better designers, said in a news release today the “dynamic yet elegant design created by Pelli Clarke Pelli for the event center fits perfectly into the fabric of the community.”
The New Haven, Conn. firm was picked during a meeting of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the agency that operates McCormick Place. The firm was awarded a $7.2 million contract.
The arena is planned for an area bounded by 21st Street, Indiana Avenue, Cermak Road, and Prairie Avenue. Renderings depict a glassy, transparent building with an overhanging roof that could be a passing reference to the dark, stellar McCormick Place Lakeside Center, built in 1971. Unlike that flat-roofed building, the Pelli Clarke Pelli structure’s roof rises to a slitted hump in the center.
Let’s take a look around. This view looks eastward from Cermak and Indiana:

A closer view from Cermak and Indiana shows the interior space and the underside of that humped roof:

The interior of the arena:

Pelli Clarke Pelli—senior principal is the famed Cesar Pelli—designed the newly opened theater school at DePaul University and the planned Wolf Point redevelopment along the Chicago River. The McCormick Place project is being supported with $70 million from DePaul, $70 million in bonds sold by McPier and $55 million in city of Chicago tax increment finance funds.

But what of this project’s design? Judging a project’s merit by looking at renderings—and the design here isn’t final and hasn’t yet been taken through a rigorous design, engineering and public input phase—is a task less accurate than reading tea leaves, but here goes:

To gracefully squeeze a multipurpose building with 10,000 seats on a site that’s only one square block—less than that, once plaza, sidewalks, entry spaces are taken into order—is a tall order; I’m not sure the renderings fully depict the trade-offs needed to do that. Does the arena in the third image above really comfortably fit in the glass box in the second image—or will the completed building be taller than shown?

And I’m curious about the north end of the building, which is an elevation not shown in the supplied renderings. This is likely to be the workhorse side of the structure where deliveries, staging and the like will occur—and it abuts the existing residential area. What will that look like? [After this post went live, McPier officials told me trucks will enter off a cul-de-sac on Prairie Avenue on the east side of the center and not via residential 21st street on the north side of the building.]

Credit where its due, though: The building as depicted doesn’t seem like an architectural afterthought. If it has to be built, at least the makings of a bright, transparent, urban-sensitive building are there.

The arena is scheduled to be built by fall of 2016, along with a 1,200 room hotel and a 500-room hotel nearby.