2018 Best Places to Work in Chicago: GREC Architects
GREC Architects was named one of the Best Places to Work in Chicago by Crain’s Chicago Business.
A new hotel borrows from 20th-century Modernism to fit into a gritty landmarked district
A river and a 10-lane expressway separate the Loop, Chicago’s highrise downtown, from the Fulton Market area, a gritty low-rise backwater to the west whose brick warehouses used to provide storage for wholesale-food businesses like meatpacking, in a city Carl Sandburg described in 1914 as “hog butcher for the world.”A century later, the hog butchers are long gone, replaced by hipsters living in condo lofts, techies working at Google, foodies flocking to upscale restaurants, and fashionistas navigating the cracked sidewalks in 6-inch heels. The streetscape is scruffy, but it’s only a 10-minute walk from the Loop, so developers have been descending into the area en masse, and today 52 projects are either under construction or on the drawing board. Many are for hotels, which the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood needs, including new outposts for Hyatt, Hoxton, Nobu, and Equinox. Last August, the Portland-based boutique hospitality chain Ace opened the $44 million, 159-room Ace Hotel Chicago, designed by Chicago based GREC Architects with interiors by Los Angeles COMMUNE Design, firms that had previously collaborated on the Ace in downtown L.A.
Trying to fit into a historic cityscape can lead architects into pastiche, but GREC sidestepped this trap with a sensitive modernist intervention. “Our practice has long been rooted in the principles of early Modernism,” explains principal Don Copper. “A design language inspired by the legacy of the Bauhaus and Mies van der Rohe yet informed by the local warehouse vernacular seemed harmonious with the Ace brand, compatible with the area’s industrial aesthetic, and firmly rooted in Chicago’s architectural continuum.”
The Ace is situated directly opposite Google—a company with enough clout to demand a clause in its lease that stipulated the construction of a hotel across the street. The property was controlled by the same developer that built the tech giant’s offices in a renovated 1920s cold-storage facility. Ace was selected in part because of its track record transforming emerging neighborhoods.
The Bauhaus Spirit – Ace Hotel Chicago
“Our role and obligation to our clients is to solve functional challenges in an efficient way,” said Don Copper, principal at GREC Architects. “We like to see design as taking that charge to another level; of using those solutions to functional requirements in ways that create meaningful experiences for the people who live there, work there, or are within the city who will experience it just by living in the city.”
When the Chicago-based architecture and design firm was brought on board for developer Sterling Bay Companies’ proposed new hotel in the Fulton Market Historic District in Chicago, the team was tasked with not only integrating the design with the surrounding neighborhood context, but also to develop a concept re-envisioning the traditional hotel model—while remaining authentic to its property site—for long-time client Ace Hotel Group.
Located at 311 N. Morgan St., the Ace Hotel Chicago is nestled within a designated landmark district regarded for its wholesale market, meatpacking, loft manufacturing, and warehousing industries that contributed to the city’s economic development. While many of the buildings historically reflected a function-driven design aesthetic prioritizing utilitarian use over decoration, typologically speaking; there are notes of architectural detailing from movements such as Romanesque Revival, Chicago School, Tudor Revival, and Art Deco among the facades.
“It was our priority to find a way to harmonize with the scale and material palette of the neighborhood, yet at the same time we wanted to create a building that was notable and was unique. We didn’t want it to look like we were trying to recreate a 100-year-old warehouse, so that is when the early-modern-Bauhaus concept became part of the project,” Copper said.
“It was a way to acknowledge the modern architectural legacy of those early modern movements in Chicago and how that changed the face of the city—and do it in a way that would be commensurate with the scale and the materials of the neighborhood,” Copper added.
Condé Nast / Pitchfork Offices – Chicago
Chicago’s Condé Nast branch and Pitchfork (recently acquired by Condé Nast) moved into their new office in the Merchandise Mart this past summer. Employees of Chicago’s Condé Nast office previously sat in perimeter offices on the 35th floor of the John Hancock Center, while the Pitchfork team was housed in a garage in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.
The Condé Nast group decided to combine its Chicago teams under one roof, and now calls a 12,000-square foot, full-floor space on the 21st floor of the Merchandise Mart home. Led by local Chicago architecture studio, GREC Architects, the design breaks away from the typical ‘glossy media’ office space and joins the Condé Nast and Pitchfork teams in a creative, open workspace with loads of natural light. To streamline operations and blend the two organizations into one coherent workspace, customized neighborhoods are created to accommodate their unique needs. The Condé Nast team is arranged with medium-height partitions and shelving to house publications and provide acoustic relief. Pitchfork’s team space features a studio layout for artistic endeavors and open sight lines across all desks.
Key design aspects of the space include an elevated stage for performers (staying true to the Pitchfork brand), a lounge and kitchen with home-style amenities, and huddle spaces and phone rooms to accommodate for privacy in the open office environment. GREC employed a warm color palette featuring brass accents and inviting lounge furniture to create a relaxed office environment. Revealed elements of the original Mart structure compliment new polished concrete floors. GREC also left walls blank as a canvas for the creative brands’ teams to display original artwork.
A look inside Emme apartments: A modern building that respects its historic site
Stepping inside Emme, the lobby area is sleek and modern and features a notable amount of negative space, allowing its artwork to take center stage. “We were constantly challenging ourselves to remove one more thing and let what was left shine through,” said Copper. Gerding Edlen commissioned Haymarket memorial artist Mary Brogger to design a sculptural piece comprised of twisted industrial wire suspended in a niche.
The lobby’s seating area is adorned with an oversized orange and yellow painting visible from outside through a large, Mondrian-inspired picture window. The opening allows for an unobstructed view of the memorial and is joined by an additional plaque explaining the significance of the Haymarket event.
The materials here are high quality: real stone floors, and plaster instead of drywall. The lobby incorporates elements from the Crane Company building that was partly demolished to make way for the apartment development. A beam from the old industrial structure is embedded into Emme’s front desk while the floor of the mail room features salvaged wood stained and arranged in a chevron pattern.
Above, a glass catwalk connects the building’s management office, its large indoor and outdoor dog runs, and a lofted library and co-working space stocked only with books containing the word “light” in the title.
Streeterville’s One Bennett Park Reaches Its Record-Setting Height
The under-construction One Bennett Park skyscraper in Streeterville hit an important milestone this month by topping out at 836 feet, becoming the tallest all-residential building in Chicago. It’s an encouraging sign that ambitious projects proposed during this development cycle are well on their way to completion. According to developer Related Midwest, the new 70-story tower is the tallest constructed in Chicago since 2009—and there are taller towers still on the way.
Unveiled in July 2014, the tower proposal from Related and partner LendLease immediately garnered attention for its height and the design team behind the project. Prominent New York firm Robert A.M. Stern Architects was announced as the lead architect and Michael Van Valkenburgh—the landscape designer behind Maggie Daley Park and the 606—was selected to shape the new park at the tower’s base. Chicago’s GREC Architects is serving as the architect of record, a role which helps coordinate all teams involved in design and construction.
Related Midwest president Curt Bailey and David Ervin of GREC Architects highlight Chicago’s role in modern architecture and engineering and how the new One Bennett Park will contribute to the city’s legacy by becoming the first—and perhaps only—Chicago skyscraper designed by Stern, an architect who gained prominence during the postmodernist movement.
“If you appreciate architecture and design, this is where you’re going to want to live,” says Bailey. “In the end, we’re in the business of developing legacy buildings.”
That notion was reiterated by Ervin: “From our standpoint, a legacy building is one that stands the test of time,” he says.
EMME has opened in the West Loop
GREC Architects’ latest residential project, EMME, has opened in the West Loop. The building provides landscaped green spaces at the building entry and its 5,000-square-foot roof will be dedicated to urban farming.
Best Office Design – Condé Nast/Pitchfork
After being acquired by Conde Nast, Pitchfork (pitchfork.com) – the indie music brand that started in Chicago as a quarterly music review with annual festivals in Union Park and Paris – recently moved from its gritty Logan Square garage into a brand-new office in the Merchandise Mart. Merging with its new Conde Nast team, previously located in a corporate environment in the John Hancock Center, required a space that could accommodate two very different work cultures. Micahel Berger, of local frim GREC Architects transformed the entire 12,000-square-foot 21st floor of the Merchandise Mart by breaking away from a glossy media office and focusing on the creativity of Pitchfork’s roots. The large, open workspace makes the most of the natural light and features a condo-like kitchen and lounge areas. Custom huddles and rooms provide privacy for phone calls and meetings within the shared space, and there is an elevated stage for hosting impromptu intimate concerts. Walls were left blank to offer a gallery for original artwork such a record covers and band posters. The result is “a more interactive environment allowing for a greater communication among teams and across groups,” says Berger.
Best New Boutique Hotel: ACE Hotel Chicago
The new Ace Hotel in the Fulton Market area continues Chicago’s boutique hotel trend that serves Chicagoans as much as the tourists. Designed by GREC Architects, the hotel combines a thoughtfully designed new structure with a preserved façade, bridging the neighborhood’s historic, landmarked character with a contemporary yet tasteful aesthetic. Its sixth-floor rooftop features a landscaped outdoor prairie terrace that also serves as a venue for film screenings and local DJs. — Anjulie Rao
Ace Hotel has opened in the West Loop
GREC Architects’ new project, the Ace Hotel, has opened in the West Loop. The building preserves the existing Fulton Market landmark cheese factory façade on the south side of the building.
ACE Chicago – Landmark award for Excellence in New Development in a Landmark District
The light‐warehouse buildings in the Fulton‐Randolph Market District form important anchors to this oldest surviving food marketing district in Chicago. The district functioned as a meatpacking area, one of the city’s most historically significant industries. The Ace Hotel project included rehabilitation of a historic commission house at 311 N. Morgan and adjoined 4 to 7‐story new construction to the north for a boutique hotel. Constructed in 1921, the 2‐story former Aroma Cheese Company commission house was rehabilitated with masonry repairs on the front façade and decorative parapet, new windows and doors to match the historic fenestration pattern, new storefront, and a rooftop addition setback from the front façade. The 4‐story central portion includes a courtyard enclosure at the front to continue the street wall, and is clad in a combination of grey brick, steel, and glass. The 7‐story portion at the north end of the site is clad in a white brick with concrete columns and window configurations similar to the historic windows in the district. The new construction design exhibits a contemporary expression while maintaining a compatible massing and height to the surrounding buildings of the district. The Ace Hotel houses 159 guest rooms, restaurant and coffee shop, event spaces, and a rooftop bar. This combined new construction and adaptive reuse project showcases the joint efforts of preservation and compatible development within a Landmark District. The Fulton‐Randolph Market District was designated a Chicago Landmark on July 29, 2015.
“Its glass-and-concrete aesthetics nod to the New Bauhaus”
Since opening its first property in Seattle in 1999, the Ace Hotel Group has steadily claimed strongholds in nine other major cities. The latest to join the ranks is Chicago, where the hotel stands within a newly constructed building – a first for the group.
Located in the historic Fulton Market district, a hotbed of watering holes and restaurants in the West Loop, the 159-room property was designed by local firm GREC Architects. Its glass-and-concrete aesthetics nod to the New Bauhaus, while the preserved brick façade of a former cheese factory, on the building’s southern wing, helps anchor the new build in the listed neighbourhood.
Once inside, the hotel’s fusion of past and present hits a sophisticated tone with interiors designed by Commune. Inspired by the city’s most famous architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, his buildings at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and other key Bauhaus émigrés, the firm used simple materials such as polished steel, brass, plywood and linoleum as the grounding elements of the space.
GREC Architects – Top 100 Green Buildings Design Firms 2017
The market growth for green design and construction can be seen from the results of the ENR Top Green Buildings survey. As a group, the Top 100 Green Design Firms in 2016 generated $5.99 billion in design revenue from projects registered with and actively seeking certification from third-party ratings groups under objective sustainable-design standards, such as the USGBC’s LEED standards. For the group, this revenue is a healthy 11.6% increase from the $5.37 billion in 2015. Domestically, green design revenue rose an impressive 13.1%, to $4.83 billion, in 2016, from $4.27 billion in 2015. The Top 100 had $1.17 billion in revenue from green projects outside the U.S. in 2016, up 5.6% from 2015.
Condé Nast and Pitchfork Come Together Under one Roof
The publishing world isn’t always the glamorous and chic one portrayed in the movies: the crisp white offices and skyline views in The Devil Wears Prada certainly did not represent the offices that housed Chicago’s Condé Nast branch and their recently-acquired Pitchfork properties. Condé’s sales teams sat in the Hancock Tower’s 35th floor perimeter offices where no natural light entered, making for a dreary and dark setting. The Pitchfork brand was at home for years in a Logan Square residential property. While the homey feeling was perfect for their laid-back style in the contemporary music journalism and festival business, its design team was working out of the garage.
The Condé group decided to bring all of its Chicago teams together under one roof, soliciting the expertise of GREC Architects to design a new home for them on the 21st floor of the Merchandise Mart. Led by Project Designer
Liz Potokar, LEED AP; Director of Interiors and Project Manager Michael Berger; and Project Designer Cameron Laabs, LEED AP, GREC technical designer, the team worked closely with the client to solve major challenges of integrating these different groups.
A 17-Story Highrise Will Soar Over the Burnside Bridgehead
The Eastside skyline keeps climbing higher.
Portland’s Design Review committee has approved another massive high-rise project at the east end of the Burnside Bridge, a 17-story mixed-use building called 5 MLK. It’ll be constructed on the site of the old Fishel’s furniture space just across the street from the 21-story Yard and the Fair-Haired Dumbell. The blog Next Portland was the first to report the approved plans.
The new project will be only one of many projects changing the entire human landscape on the east side of the Willamette–rapidly transforming Portland into a city with skylines on both sides of the river. Other large projects approved along the Burnside corridor include the forthcoming avant-bulbous Jupiter Hotel expansion, and the six-story Burnside Delta that will loom over Michael’s Italian Beef at Southeast Sandy Boulevard and 12th Avenue.
But the 5 MLK project–designed by Chicago’s GREC Architects for Portland developer Gerding Edlen–will be the tallest piece of skyline alongside the Yard, cut into multi-level terraces and horseshoed blocks of glass. For those keeping track of Portland’s dwindling parking options, there will also be space for 158 cars and 334 bicycles. There will also be a yoga studio, a rooftop pool and ground-level retail.
5MLK Approved by Design Commission
The Design Commission has approved 5 MLK, the 17 story Burnside Bridgehead tower. The design of the project is by Chicago based GREC Architects, for Portland based developer Gerding Edlen. The 200′ tall building will include approximately 112,000 sq ft of office space, 220 residential apartments and 14,000 sq ft of retail space. Parking for 158 vehicles and 344 bicycles will be provided.
The main entrance to the building, shared by the office and residential uses, will be at the corner of E Burnside and SE MLK. A series of large rooftop terraces, with with landscape designed by PLACE, are proposed at levels 3 through 6. Amenity features including a fitness center, yoga studio and lounge will open onto the level 6 terrace. A roof deck with a pool is proposed at level 17.
The skin for the tower will be a window wall system, with a pattern of vision glass, spandrel glass, porcelain panels in two colors, and projecting mullions. Other materials proposed include metal soffits and stone masonry at the ground level planters.
GREC Architects – Top 300 Design Firms 2017
GREC Architects was named a Top 300 Design Firm of 2017 by Architectural Record.
“GREC is spinning a symphony of modernism that threatens to infect the building’s common areas”
In 2014, Chicago’s GREC Architects made the expansionist move into a background building on the Magnificent Mile. It was a sign of health and ambition—that a firm cut to half its 2007 size by the recession was back on the warpath. From a generic office floor, GREC is spinning a symphony of modernism that threatens to infect the building’s common areas.
Founded in 1989, GREC counts a growing staff of 30. The three managing principals hail from corporate America, easing the courtship with large clients like Related Midwest, John Buck Company, and Chicago newcomer Gerding Edlen Development. Every client large and small gets principal involvement from start to finish.
Their work fans out programmatically, with hospitality and multifamily residential as the sweet spots. “We’re trying to find the strengths of living in an urban high-rise and bleed that into our hospitality work,” said principal Don Copper. “Conversely, we want to bring hospitality’s social component into our residential work. How can we promote people coming out of their units for a greater sense of community?”
2015 Chicago’s Coolest Offices: GREC Architects
No cubicles here. This Mag Mile architecture firm designed its own digs, relying on an open concept to stress efficiency and collaboration. Glass interior windows and doors encourage a culture of transparency—literally and figuratively. Recycled materials make up a sizable portion of the design, from fluorescent light tubes and handcrafted glass tiles to sections of carpet from the company’s previous office.
“Ace Hotel is a tribute to the tradition of the Modern Movement”
Located in the West Loop of Chicago, the neighborhood that, over the last decades, has been able to reshape its image, the Ace Hotel – a 159-room facility, plus common spaces for events and meetings – is a tribute to the tradition of the Modern Movement, reinterpreted with an unprecedented contemporary taste. A reference to the spirit of the New Bauhaus, of European origin, which, at the beginning of the Twentieth century, in the state of Illinois found fertile ground for a prolific creative activity. The building is full of suggestions and references to authors such as Louis Sullivan, John Wellborn Root and Frank Lloyd Wright. Architects who contributed, since the end of the nineteenth century, to making Chicago the main city of American architecture. The teachings of the Prairie School of Architecture, from which the Ace Hotel seems to have taken its linguistic code, come back strongly today. The style characterized by horizontal lines, flat or terraced roofs, protruding cornices are the canons of a new functional aesthetics. More design studies contributed to the construction of the hotel.
The architectural project is signed by GREC Architects, a Chicago-based practice, which for the same client has transformed the Ace Downtown of Los Angeles. The link with the context is the starting point of the design research, which is expressed through pure volumes, linear geometric shapes, sharp cuts that mark the facades, finished with bricks, in harmony with the signs of the industrial city. The West Loop district, in fact, after having been until the first half of the twentieth century an important center for import and production, with a rich entrepreneurial fabric, has reconverted its urban vocation, regenerating all those empty spaces left by factories and warehouses disposed of in new workspaces, including restaurants and entertainment venues. The traces of the past are used as identifying elements of the oncoming novelties. The Ace Hotel is a good example. It can be understood both from the formal aspect that organizes the internal spaces, and from the organization of the facades along the sidewalk that runs along the block. To the already existing facade of the old Italian-American dairy industry, carefully recovered in all its parts, with the typical red bricks, the designers added two other buildings: the seven-story one, covered with white bricks, and the four-story one – the central body – clad with black bricks, aligned with the existing front, but set back from the first two, so as to leave room for the large panoramic terrace, designed like a promenade overlooking the neighborhood.
“The Main is what transit-oriented development is supposed to be: urban and urbane”
Instead of creating a conventional building whose walls loom over the street, Chicago’s GREC Architects designed an L-shaped structure that frames the urban space of Chicago Avenue and is appropriately set back from less-busy, lower-scaled Main Street. At street level, the design meets Evanston’s requirement for a small setback, but above, the architects were free to shape stacks of glass window bays that sweep sculpturally across the facade. Light rather than plodding, the design is also respectful of its surroundings, with handsome brickwork that pays homage to the craft and texture of the building’s older neighbors.
Step inside and you see that the saw-toothed glass wall isn’t just an empty flourish. The architects riff on it in the ceiling and walls of the lobby, even in the hallway signs that identify each apartment. From within the apartments, the bay windows combine with floor-to-ceiling glass to create a dramatic sense of expansiveness. Thermal, double-paned glass seals off train noise.
With the exception of an unleased corner retail space that is a dull pocket in an otherwise lively ensemble, The Main is what transit-oriented development is supposed to be: urban and urbane; a mix of uses rather than a dormitory; not simply occupying a site but engaging its surroundings. The suburbs — and the city of Chicago, which has more than its share of mediocre transit-oriented design — need more buildings like this.