Newsletter Subscription
Print Subscription
Change Address
Gentle Giant
John Ronan Architects designs an office tower in Chicago.
John Ronan's high-rise recalls the intimacy of smaller built works, with many skylobbies and cut-away plazas.
Courtesy John Ronan Architects

The John Buck Company has unveiled architect John Ronan’s design for 151 North Franklin, a 36-story office tower proposed for the core of Chicago’s Loop. According to Ronan, the design is meant to honor the surrounding cityscape—an adjacent pocket park, the open arcade of Buck Co’s companion piece on 155 North Wacker, and the pedestrians who walk the street and filter in and out of the nearby “L” station. Bursts of greenery at the roofline and in cubbyhole plazas, internal and external, grab the eye. “It will be a really good experience to just walk around the building,” said Ronan.

The question that propelled Ronan through the design of the 825,000-square-foot tower was, “What would an office building look like if we approached it from the idea of ‘space’ rather than built form?” A graduated sequence of plazas and lounges “feed off of the life of the city.” Some are public and some private. A set of stairs lifts the general public to a second-floor courtyard, but the invitation is subtle. Taut window walls set up two-way views between denizens of the courtyard and interior lounges. A street-level plaza burrowed into Ronan’s economical edifice has a generous amount of seating, a wily mix of organic and inorganic textures, and a sheltering overhang four stories up.


These nodes are meant to be as freeing for the office worker as they are inclusive in the cityscape, said Ronan. “The worker has needs today that demand alternative arrangements,” he adds, prompting a “design departure from the typology of the hermitic office tower.”

“Column-free floors and fewer large private offices enable maximum flexibility in the floor plate,” said Dominic Adducci, principal and senior vice president of development at Buck Co. Lounges, plazas, and flexible floor plans create an array of “optional work spaces.”


A reaction to single-minded architecture and pursuit of “urbanistic integration” has informed many of Ronan’s projects, including the sinewy Poetry Foundation and the introspective South Shore High School. Though 151 North Franklin will be four times the size of South Shore High, it shares those projects’ salient qualities of unfussy aesthetics, approachability, and interior dynamism. There is specific common ground in the main approaches to these three buildings. The building’s plaza and entryway are surfaced in basalt. “One of my favorite moments is coming through the lobby, traveling up a flight of stairs and encountering a moss garden with the sound and feel of crushed stone beneath your feet,” said Ronan. “It’s a more contemplative space, in contrast with the active covered plaza at grade.” As John Ronan Architects evolves into new spheres, the goal will be continuing to create such “spatially complex urban spaces.”


Ecological considerations at 151 North Franklin are partly linked to cost saving measures. LEED Gold Certification is being pursued. Smaller than average floor plates (25,000 square feet) with separate HVAC units reduce energy consumption and cost to the tenant, especially during non-normal hours of operation. Ten-foot ceiling heights on office floors with floor-to-ceiling glass, along with rooftop solar panels, enlist the sun in heating and lighting. A mere 34 parking spaces, reserved for executives, will accompany the new construction with some capacity for underlings secured at a neighboring garage. A bike room and shower facilities make alternative travel more agreeable.

According to Adducci, the project is “advancing through zoning” with realistic expectations of breaking ground this July. Construction will take two years. Its modest size translates to quick delivery and, as Adducci said, “greater responsiveness to specific tenant desires,” technologically or spatially. With the acquisition of air rights above the existing parking garage, critical eastern views will be preserved for high flying tenants. Asked about prospective anchors, he said only that “interest is high.”

Ian Spula