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A Labor of Indecision

Part 1 -Symbols of the Modern World
Part 2 -57 Stories of Light
Part 3 -Pride of Nashville
Part 4 -A Labor of Indecision
Part 5 -World Title Champion
Part 6 -A Building that Breathes

For his first project in Chicago, Donald Trump has been dogged by indecision. Initially he considered a building as high as 2,000 feet, then backed off when he saw high rises in Dubai and Asia going past that benchmark, leaving the title of world's tallest beyond his reach. He settled on Trump International Hotel & Tower rising to a mere 1,362 feet, leaving it the second tallest building in the nation after Sears Tower.

At one point in the planning five years ago, the $800 million Trump International was going to be an office tower. Then the downtown residential market got hot and the building switched to condos. Later, it included a hotel, too.

The Donald started selling condos at prices of $1,000 per sq. ft. and more — unprecedented for Chicago — yet eventually decided he wasn't charging enough. He went back to his earliest clients, who had reserved units with down-payments, and baldly asked them to pay more. Indeed, most of the buyers agreed to his new terms and the hotel opened in January. Most of the building will open in stages through the rest of this year.

Chicago-based Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP has designed buildings for Trump before, but none of them has ever gotten to a groundbreaking. Richard F. Tomlinson II, an SOM managing director who oversaw the Chicago high rise, has been patient through the process as political winds and ownership's whims have changed frequently.

In fact, Tomlinson believes that the Trump experience points up the importance of flexibility amid a changing economy.

“Large-scale projects these days have to be made to be adaptable and flexible,” Tomlinson says. “A building erected over a period of six years or more is going to live through one or two market cycles and must be able to respond to those cycles. We designed a building that allowed the Trump organization to change its mind.”

Translation? The switch from offices to condos and the addition of a hotel didn't force SOM to revise the exterior design all that much.

The floor plates on the bottom of the building encompass 44,000 sq. ft. to accommodate 1,100 parking spaces for cars spread over 11 floors, all well hidden behind highly reflective glass that makes the garage exterior look just like the residences up above from the street level.

The building rises in a series of steps, or setbacks, to floor plates of just 7,000 sq. ft. at the top. Ceiling heights in most of the living spaces are 10 feet, though for super-luxury accommodations on the top floors ceiling heights stretch as high as 18 feet.

The best apartments in Chicago 80 years ago were built with ceiling heights of 10 feet and more. But through the last half of the 1900s the average narrowed to less than 9 feet.

Chicago's Sears Tower has four separate entranceways, but the Trump tower, with a bow to modern-day security concerns, will have just one.

The Chicago River runs past one side of the building, and Wabash Avenue the other. The architects designed a single entranceway with special curb cuts and drive-by lanes to provide enough vehicular circulation to forestall gridlock.

The setbacks are an important element in making Trump resistant to the wind in a town where weather is an abiding preoccupation. The rounded corners of the structure were tested in wind tunnels to great effect.

“Our building changes shape from bottom to top, which confuses wind currents,” Tomlinson says. “Wind responds best to a building in a consistent shape all the way up. But with our design, wind doesn't have a chance to develop harmonic energy.”

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