When Will Chicago Be Ready to Build Another Skyscraper?

by Natalie Terchek

Building a new skyscraper is not possible in Chicago’s current economy, but is it possible to see one in the future?


Even though Chicago is well-known for its beautiful skyline, a new skyscraper would not last in this economy. This is evident looking at an 80 ft. deep, 100 ft. wide pit on Lake Shore Drive. That pit was supposed to be the site of the Chicago Spire, which at 2,000 feet would make it the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, but construction halted in 2008 due to the economy.

The pit does pose an interesting question though: when will Chicago be ready for its next skyscraper?

What is required out of a skyscraper?

Many people don’t realize this, but a “supertall” skyscraper is actually an objective term. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) states that a building over 300 meters (984 ft.) is considered “supertall,” and a building over 600 meters (1,968 ft.) is considered “megatall”.

According to WBEZ, there are six buildings in Chicago that classify as “supertall”: The Trump Tower, Willis Tower, Aon Center, John Hancock Center, AT&T Corporate Center, and Two Prudential Plaza. The site also says that only two “megatall” buildings exist in the world: the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and the Royal Hotel Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.


Click to read the world’s 10 tallest skyscraper’s, courtesy of The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

It would be exciting for Chicago to have a “megatall” skyscraper, like the Chicago Spire was supposed to be, but a building that tall requires a lot of work and money, which is difficult to manage as Chicago recovers from the recession.

“If there was a great location, a great site, a developer that really had the willpower to pull something off, it certainly could happen,” said Rafael Carreira, a principal with The John Buck Company, to WBEZ. “But the larger a project gets, the harder it is to finance, the harder it is to pre-sell or premarket … and those are factors that make these ‘supertalls’ hard to do.”

Does Chicago Really Need More Skyscrapers?

Chicago does not depend on tall skyscrapers to boost their economy the way other parts of the world do. WBEZ reports that the world gains 5 million city dwellers every month, but the U.S. only makes up a small part of that amount. This is happening more in Asia, specifically China, where the government plans to move 250 million people into cities by 2025, which makes high-density, “supertall” buildings very high in demand.

“What’s driving these tall buildings around the world is attention in a global market and population growth,” said CTBUH Executive Director, Antony Wood, to WBEZ. “And, on the face of it, we’re not seeing any of that in Chicago.”

That does not mean that there is no interest in building another skyscraper in the future. With more people moving to the city, building a new skyscraper could be a possibility years from now. Brian Lee, a design partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, would like to see another tall building in Chicago.

“Would we be interested? Absolutely,” he told WBEZ. “I think Chicago could stand to have another tall building. It’s composed of multiple centers, so there’s many good sites for a tall building that would work.”

The chances of Chicago being the home of the world’s tallest building may never happen again, but the hopes of adding another  “supertall” building to the skyline in the future are still there.

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