He came to Chicago with $500 in his pockets and a head full of determination. Garrett Kelleher started out as a poor subcontractor, back in 1986 before the Celtic Tiger changed the financial picture in Dublin. Ten years later, with a lot of cash stuffed into his wallet, he took his family back home and became a very big property developer, with projects scattered across Europe.
Now the man behind Shelbourne Development Ltd. is back, with a new project that's been out in the open and then hidden since this past July.
He bought up the parcel at 400 North Lake Shore Drive, a very, very pricey piece of real estate on the banks of the Chicago River, zoned for residential and hotel use. He hired Santiago Calatrava to design a building that was modern, unique, and one-of-a-kind, a statement to be made in steel. And then the critics had at it. The general concensus about the building was that it would look like a gigantic drill bit, lording its phenomenal height over the lakefront. At nearly double the size of the nearby John Hancock Building, it would be a tower not to be missed.
Funny thing about architects. They don't really know very much about construction. They design things that look good, that soar, that take us on flights of fancy, but they don't actually have a concrete notion of how to achieve their vision. Not too long ago, the civil engineers were pulling out their hair and running through money at a rapid pace, all in an attempt to figure out how to build Frank Gehry's exploded tin can of a bandshell in Chicago's Grant Park. There's been no end of mockery for the sweeping walkway that was put in and promptly closed in the winter. The weight of the snow, you see, and then the weight of the pedestrians, and the whole thing could collapse. It snows in Chicago. The walkway bridge can't carry all the weight.
Is it any wonder that everyone's first thought was that the twisting tower could not physically exist? How is it to be constructed, folks asked, thinking of real ironworkers using real steel beams, rather than the architect's twist of his pencil.
Option B has just been put forth. The drill bit, tapering to a point, has been shaved down to a more flat tip, and the base is less tapered than originally planned. It has been suggested that the final phase of construction be the application of a coat of red paint, since the skyscraper is going to look like a tasty Twizzler when it's done.
Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune questions the new form, which allows for more units, which means the developer makes more money. Without its original spire top, the new proposal lacks a certain grace, and who wants to look at a gigantic tribute to the licorice stick, in the city that gave the world Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright?
If Mr. Kelleher is really so fond of Chicago and wants to express his sentiments, perhaps he should re-think the new design and find another way to get enough units into the structure without making it look like something that should be wrapped in cellophane. Unless, of course, your man is making a statement, a steel and glass ode to the city that boasts of its industries...the candy-making capital of the nation.