Chicago lofts: Is loft condo design stylish or 'super crappy' in recent developments?

Not to beat a dead loft, but Paulj’s comment on an earlier loft post got us thinking about the state of Chicago loft design:

The structure and the windows / openings will never be dated. The Chicago “loft look” is very dated. Who wants to look at ductwork? Radiant heat flooring would be a wonderful option allowing for stone floors, polished concrete…. Too many developers with horrendous taste in this town. The interiors in all but a select group of buildings are amateur and super crappy.

By way of a response…I’m not an architect or an engineer (as I think Paul may be), but it seems to me that radiant floor heating migh present challenges for developments where units often have ceiling heights of 12 to 18 feet. Getting adequate, even heat in these spaces can be tough with forced-air heating too, but at the best projects, loft developers seem to have risen to this challenge, just as they have with the issues of sound transmission, spalling, etc. (If you can shed more light on the heating issue, either as a loft owner or as a pro, please click on “Comments” below.)

Van Buren LoftsBut the real issue here seems to be an aesthetic one. Most true Chicago lofts are big, muscular spaces that embrace their industrial roots. My own take is that while you’re busy hiding the exposed ductwork, why not cover up the heavy timber beams that reveal unsightly structure? Why not find a way to disguise those garish concrete columns and cover the rough brick with drywall?

Mostly because you’d be stripping the space of all character. If you have such urges, lofts probably aren’t for you.

I’ve seen some terrible lofts in Chicago, but more often than not, they tend to be fun, interesting spaces precisely because they eschew the vanilla-box standards and finishes of conventional condos.

As to the question of who wants to look at ductwork (that is, who wants to live in a Chicago-style loft, since most do have exposed ductwork)…Early this year, I counted 38 loft condo developments on the market totalling several thousand units. Most of those units were reserved, under contract or closed.

For the first time, we now see lofts in neighborhoods ranging from North Kenwood-Oakland to Avondale, and from Rogers Park to McKinley Park. New construction – everything from townhouses to high-rises – has been imitating loft style, and sometimes pretending to be lofts in its marketing, for many years now. It’s not unusual for brand new developments to have not only exposed ductwork, but also exposed concrete ceilings, partial-height walls and other lofty features.

Here’s a glimpse at a few current loft developments. What do you think – dated and “super crappy,” timeless and stylish, somewhere in between?

Lofts at River East Art Center Lofts at 2100

Olympic Lofts Prairie District Lofts

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