Opening in September 1895 and currently serving a veritable rainbow of different lines of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)’s rapid transit system (Brown, Green, Pink, Orange, and Red), State/Lake station is among the oldest and busiest “L” hubs in the city’s downtown core and among the last to retain its original late 19th-century features. While the station certainly offers a level of old-school authenticity not found in modernized “L” stations, State/Lake has struggled to meet the needs of the modern-day CTA ridership (particularly with regards to accessibility) and has been long overdue for a reimagining.
That will all change with a dramatic $180 million redesign of the aging elevated station recently announced by the City of Chicago, the Chicago Department of Transportation, and the CTA. The proposed makeover, headed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in collaboration with Kansas City-headquartered TranSystems and a consultant team comprised of experts in the fields of historic preservation and public transit, will involve a slew of major upgrades and enhancements at the 126-year-old station. Among them are new safer passenger platforms that would be doubled in width, an instantly iconic glass canopy that allows for abundant daylight while shielding CTA customers from the Windy City’s sometimes unforgiving elements, a fly-over connection bridge for improved access, a quartet of new elevators that will whisk passengers of all mobilities to the elevated lines and the adjacent subterranean Red Line platforms, and a range of street-level public realm upgrades geared to enliven the area beneath the station while boosting pedestrian comfort and safety through enhanced lighting, improved street crossings, widened street corners, and more.
“Given that the State and Lake CTA Station lies within the beating heart of Chicago, we must pave the way for its full modernization and make it easily accessible for all transit riders,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a statement. “In addition to accessibility, this project also demonstrates our commitment to the full revival of the Loop—which is the economic engine and cultural hub of our great city.”
Clad in a frit pattern meant to reduce bird collisions, the expansive glass canopy is the most conspicuous feature of the new State/Lake station and, per a press announcement provided by SOM, “draws upon Chicago’s history of structural innovation, from bascule bridges and early skyscrapers, to the John Hancock Center and Willis Tower.” While the design could easily encase the station in a sort of disorienting, self-enclosed overhead transit bubble, it is instead intended to expand views of the Inner Loop and further connects passengers with the historic, marquee-lined environs of State Street via north- and south-facing public balconies. Various architectural features of the old State/Lake station such as railings will also be salvaged and incorporated into the new design while educational elements work to further “provide a connection to the past and the future.”
“The new State/Lake station will be a gateway to downtown for Chicagoans and visitors alike,” elaborated Scott Duncan, SOM Design Partner. “As one of the most visible stations in the CTA network, the design is reflective of both its location and the needs of riders, with a soaring glass canopy, comfortable spaces for passengers, and fully integrated accessible design for riders of all mobility levels.”
Reaction to the transformative revamp of the dual-track State/Lake station, which was the second busiest in the entire CTA network behind Clark/Lake station in 2019, has been largely positive since the scheme was first announced late last week. In an op-ed, the editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times referred to the move as “certainly good news for the 3.7 million riders a year who use the aged station” while also giving props to the CTA for embarking on a series of other infrastructural investments over the past decade.
The unveiling of the new, much-anticipated design for State/Lake station is the latest in a string of high-profile rail and transportation projects for SOM, this one in the same city in which the global architecture, engineering, and urban planning firm was founded in 1936. Most notable of SOM’s recent rail-centric projects is the $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall in Manhattan. The celebrated, 486,000-square-foot expansion of Pennsylvania Station located within the old McKim, Mead & White-designed James A. Farley Building made its public debut at the start of this year.
As reported by the Chicago Tribune, no start date for construction work at State/Lake station has been established by the city. While the station itself would be closed during the duration of the projected three-year construction period, the tracks themselves would remain in service.