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The Trump Tower

May 27, 2010

401 N. Wabash

CNS 2010

If Chicago were the modern-day Land of Oz, the Trump Tower would be its Emerald Palace. No, it isn’t green, nor does a wizard live in the penthouse. It soars and sparkles though. As I approach the beaming building there’s an extra bounce in my step, and I can’t help but think of Dorothy, Toto and her storybook friends skipping along the yellow brick road.

Instead of a yellow road, the tower has the Chicago River – and the two have a lot in common. Like the river, the tower is made up of curves and is predominantly blue. It’s a contextual building, not only relating to the river but the surrounding buildings as well. The building, which holds both a hotel and condos, consists of a series of steps or setbacks moving up the tower. The first setback (that defines the tower’s base) corresponds with the height of the neighboring historic Wrigley Building. The second relates to the buildings across the river, and the top step references Mies van der Rohe’s IBM Tower next door.

Adrian Smith, then with Skidmore Owings and Merrill, approached Donald Trump with big ideas when he heard about his plans to redevelop the site of the old Chicago Sun Times Building. Smith’s original plan was to design a 2000 ft, 150 story building – the tallest in the world. On September 11, 2001 Smith was in a SOM conference room working out the final details of his design scheme before presenting it to Trump, when the World Trade Center towers came crashing down. Immediately, plans to build the world’s tallest building were over. Trump later said, “I realized that the great dream of the very tall building in this country should no longer be a dream.” At 1389 ft and 92 stories, it’s nowhere near as tall as originally planned, but the tower is still a record breaker. Completed in 2009, it’s the sixth tallest building in the world and second tallest in Chicago – right behind SOM’s Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower).

IBM, Trump and Wrigley

Though Smith didn’t get to realize his dream of building the world’s tallest building in Chicago, he achieved it in Dubai with the completion of his much talked of Burj Khalifa. Topping off at 2,716 ft (828 meters), he not only realized his dream but surpassed it – no other building in the world comes close in height. That is, no building other than the kilometer high (at least 3,281 ft) tower Smith and his partner Gordon Gill have been selected to design in Saudi Arabia. It seems the only person who can out build Adrian Smith is Adrian Smith.

Adrian Smith might be designing international buildings foreseen only in Sci-Fi movies, but locally he’s giving Chicago a touch of a fairytale.


Adrian Smith has since left SOM and opened his own firm with Gordon Gill: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. If you’re interested in learning more about them, here’s their website. And here’s SOM’s website. Last but not least, if you’re in the market for a fancy new condo perhaps you’d be interested in exploring the “Trump International Hotel and Tower: Chicago” website.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Madeleine Raymond permalink
    May 27, 2010 8:06 am

    What a delightful and creative comparison!

  2. Cayla permalink
    May 27, 2010 9:29 am

    When was it completed?

  3. Sharon Kramer permalink
    May 28, 2010 1:05 pm

    I love your descriptions. Very vivid.

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