Talking about the much-maligned four-plus-one

The four-plus-one or 4+1 is the Chicago building type that everyone loves to hate – everyone, that is, except for the many renters who choose to move into one.

For those of you unfamiliar with the genre, the Chicago four-plus-one takes its name from the four residential floors above a single floor that houses a lobby and parking underneath the building. The buildings exploited a loophole in Chicago’s Zoning Code.

The most common rap against the 4+1s is that they’re ugly, projecting curb appall and curb repel rather than curb appeal. It’s difficult to choose up sides in a debate over aesthetics, but the majority opinion probably comes down on the side of ugly.

The second most common complaint is that 4+1s were cheaply built, and it’s beyond dispute that some were. A property manager I know once confessed, only half jokingly, that he was afraid to replace the hall carpeting in his 4+1s because “I think it’s all that’s holding them together.”

A complaint – more a lament – that’s heard less frequently as time passes is that 4+1s increased density and degraded the visual quality of streetscapes by replacing vintage single-family homes and flats.

Whatever your take on 4+1s, it’s hard to deny their enduring popularity among renters. Most 4+1s are in attractive close-to-the-lake locations where their primary competition is vintage courtyard buildings and converted apartment hotels.

The 4+1s lack the character, high ceilings and vintage features of their competition, but offer other features lacking in those buildings that renters value.

The 4+1s plusses when compared to vintage buildings typically include larger, more functional floor plans, larger windows, much greater closet space, kitchens with more cabinet and counter space, air-conditioning, elevators, garbage chutes. They often have a better location and, most important of all, they have parking.

In the video, shot a year ago today, I tour a 4+1 at 536 W Addison with Planned Property’s Dan McDonough and chat about the property type’s appeal. Planned Property is one of our sponsors.

In the following video, McDonough redefines the 4+1 at 450 W Melrose as a “modern mid-rise elevator building.”

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