Blue skies ahead

Azure Tower

Azure Tower’s terra cotta and blue glass designed to engage Boul Mich

by Dan Schuyler

Here’s a question for designers and developers eyeing South Michigan Avenue: how do you make your high-rise stand out when the competition is as intense as a football game between the Bears and the Packers?

The stretch of Michigan Avenue between Roosevelt Road and Cullerton Street is the epicenter of development in the booming South Loop, with six high-rises, one mid-rise and one loft project currently in various stages of marketing. To make Azure Tower stand out from the pack, Concept Developers and Realty Group and Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture started with a striking skin of blue glass and incorporated a surprising material in the tower’s contemporary façade – terra cotta. The elegant, earthy material has long been associated with upscale housing, but it’s typically seen on historic buildings, not modern high-rises.

The interesting colors and materials at Azure Tower are part of Concept Developers’ response to a trend the company has noted among South Loop towers. Too many of the high-rises here fail to engage the street and are encased in clear glass, which ends up reflecting monotonous shades of gray, according to Concept Developers’ managing real estate broker, Sebastian Sobieski.

“We are beginning to see a lot of similarity in the new construction on South Michigan, and we wanted Azure Tower to be unique in a number of different ways, so that it would not become just another high-rise on the street,” Sobieski says. “We wanted the building to play off the lake and the sky and stand apart from the gray effect of clear glass, concrete and steel. And we also felt that the blue tint slims down the building and emphasizes height.”

Architect Jim Plunkard incorporated terra-cotta details into the 18-story building’s glass base, which wraps around a lobby, a fitness center, retail space and a parking garage. High-rises that sit atop square parking garage bases often are criticized for their awkwardness and failure to engage the street, but Plunkard says Azure Tower’s base is warm and inviting. The base’s glass panels, which also are tinted blue, and the visual variety of this base create a much different street presence than the monotonous blank walls on many recent garage bases.

Plunkard says he designed this base with the idea that South Michigan Avenue would evolve into a retail destination with heavy foot traffic.

“Terra cotta is an old and once-popular material, and here we are using it in a modern way,” Plunkard says. “If you take a long-term look at South Michigan Avenue, it will no doubt become a pedestrian street, and the scale and look of the building at street level becomes incredibly important.”

In addition to the terra cotta in Azure Tower’s base, grooved panels of the material accent the top floors of the façade, creating a unified theme.

“You couldn’t do this when terra cotta was popular in the old days,” Plunkard says, noting that the material used to be very difficult to anchor. “But modern technology has made terra cotta much easier to manipulate.”

The lobby is furnished with wood panels, stainless steel and concrete for a contemporary look, Sobieski says. Amenities include storage, a bicycle room and a fitness center. The fourth-floor terrace has a dog run, and the top-floor terrace includes a party room and a business center.

The 130 units at Azure Tower have one or two bedrooms (some include dens), one or two baths, and 900 to 1,600 square feet. At press time, the condos were priced from the $210s to the $850s, and deeded parking was priced from $35,000. All of the condos have at least one balcony, and units on the fourth floor (above the garage) and on the top floor have 1,100-square-foot private terraces.

The condos have floor-to-ceiling windows and 10-foot ceilings to create what Plunkard calls a very open look.” Other features include hardwood floors in living areas, bedroom carpeting, European kitchen and bathroom cabinetry, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, cultured marble vanities, marble bathroom floors, multimedia wiring, and washer and dryer hookups.

“We have spared no expense with the interiors of the units,” Sobieski says. “We did it because we wanted the very best for the residents, but we also have found that many people moving into new buildings in this area have been shocked at how little they got for their money.”

Construction on Azure Tower is scheduled to begin in mid-2007, and first delivery is anticipated in mid-2008. At press time, the sales center was located at 1326 S. Michigan Ave. and was open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends. The developer has purchased the building immediately south of the site, at 1340 S. Michigan Ave., and at press time, planned to move the sales center there at some point.

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