Glimpsed from afar – River Bend's best side faces west

River Bend

The Chicago skyline has changed dramatically during the last decade, and we’re struck, as we walk around the greater downtown area, by the ways in which many of the newer additions add to (or detract from) the fabric of the city. Given the density of the city center, most high-rises aren’t appreciated head-on or in full view. Their tops are glimpsed over neighboring buildings, facades flicker through the gaps in city blocks, a span of balconies or swatch of glass is spotted in the narrow window that momentarily emerges between two towers.

The best buildings look good from all angles, though, like people who insist on being photographed in profile, with chin up, or sans glasses, towers too, tend to have a best side. This shot of River Bend, 333 N Canal St, was snapped from just northeast of the riverfront high-rise (the center one of the three in the foreground). This was the first tower designed by Robert Bistry, who has since struck out on his own with a firm called Built Form. He did a bang-up job right out of the gate.

The gently concave facade echoes the curve of the river where its main, north and south branches converge (thus the name). Outdoor space (for better or worse, a virtual necessity in new residential towers) is artfully integrated with sheltered terraces that don’t interrupt the facade in the center of the building and end-balconies that elegantly carry the horizontal bands of concrete beyond the corners.

But the western side of the 38-story high-rise, the side we see more often, is even better. In a surprising move, Bistry, who was then with DeStefano & Partners, designed a single-loaded corridor on the building’s west side. It’s surprising because the sort of stunning city views you get on the west side of this high-rise are seldom devoted to (some would say wasted on) corridors, and views equal money for real estate developers. The advantage for passersby, however, is a western face whose neat horizontal bands are warmly punctuated by uniform interior lights – a great addition to the night skyline.

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