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Confusion Erupts over Design of Trump's Chicago Tower

As the Chicago site for the $750 million residential and hotel condominium complex dubbed Trump International Hotel & Tower was cleared during the winter months, the project’s evolving design has become a soap opera featuring the reality TV star developer Donald Trump and the city’s powerful mayor, Richard M. Daley.

The last publicly released drawings indicate an asymmetrically stepped polished steel and glass tower of 90 stories with a thin mast atop the roof. Trump indicated in early February that the mast had been removed from the design in December, prompting the Mayor to strongly state his preference for its inclusion. By the end of February, Trump was again considering a spire and contemplating the use of its height to claim at least the city’s – and perhaps even the world’s tallest title.


Chicago’s tabloids have had their fun with the duel of egos. Daley’s preference for a spire spawned a “You’re Spired” cover in the Chicago Red Eye, while news of the revised height led to The Donald’s smiling mug with a “Mine’s Bigger” headline in the same paper.

Missing from the fuss were designs for the tower. With construction about to begin, Chicago-based Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) would not release current design drawings. What is known is that the building’s structural framing has been changed from steel to concrete, expanding its space by two floors to 92 stories while maintaining an overall height of 1,125 feet – not including the disputed spire. Without the spire, Trump International Hotel & Tower would be the city’s fourth tallest structure – 325 feet short of the Sears Tower, eleven feet shorter than the Aon Center, and within two feet of the much beloved John Hancock Center.

Late in February Trump announce that the final height would probably take sixty days to negotiate with the city (and presumably with input from the designers).

Unacknowledged during the debate is the overall effect of such a tall spire. Even if the design is revised to beat the Sears Tower, the spire would need to be more than one quarter the height of the bulk of the building, a proportional challenge that strains credulity.

When Trump first announced the project in 2001, he instructed SOM to design the world’s tallest building. SOM’s designers were ready to meet with Trump Organization officials on the morning of September 11, 2001 to review a 2,000-foot tall scheme when the meeting was cancelled as downtown office buildings were evacuated in light of that day’s terrorist attacks.

Completion of the building is expected in 2008.

Edward Keegan