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A Beacon On The Riverfront

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River Point was designed by Pickard Chilton.

Outfitted with a thyssenkrupp vertical-transportation system, River Point stands out among new, world-class office towers making their debut in downtown Chicago.

by Kaija Wilkinson
photos by Ron Acord for thyssenkrupp

Chicagoans tend to be straightforward, determined and ready to forge ahead to get a job done. These characteristics are evident when it comes to integrating elevators into construction projects. Instead of handling the installation at the very end of a project — almost as an afterthought — in Chicago, more often than not, it is an integral part of the project from day one. That was the case at River Point, located on a prime piece of property overlooking the Chicago River at 444 W. Lake Street.

In June 2014, developer Hines called upon thyssenkrupp to provide the vertical-transportation system for the 730-ft.-tall, 1.1-million-sq.-ft. Pickard Chilton-designed office tower. Installation commenced in July 2015. Persohn/Hahn Associates Inc. of New Braunfels, Texas, served as elevator-system consultant.

thyssenkrupp is now more than 75% finished on the project, which includes 30 elevators and two escalators serving 52 floors. Since the building is so thoroughly elevatored, Hines decided against a destination-dispatch system.

The system includes multiple machine rooms: two for the service elevators (as they are staggered at the top of the building), one for the high-rise elevators, one for the mid-rise elevators and two for the low-rise elevators (located on two levels). The garage elevators and all single-unit elevators each have their own machine room. Handover is scheduled for November. With work winding down, there were approximately 20 employees onsite in June, down from a peak of nearly 40 last year. During a tour of the structure and its elevator system, thyssenkrupp District Construction Operations Manager Jimmy Woellert told your author that having the building mostly leased is great, because it ensures financing. However, he adds, it takes a little bit of the fun out of it. Woellert states:

“It’s a prime location. I think that the building is almost completely leased, but it would be fun to hear how these views of the Chicago River, skyline and Lake Michigan will certainly entice potential clients.”

The views of downtown from River Point are amazing, both from the upper floors and lower ones. The lower portion will boast an outdoor, landscaped sitting area overlooking downtown and the Chicago River. Above this area is a unique curved balcony. Looking southeast, one can see another office tower topping out: the 742-ft.-tall 150 N. Riverside. That Groettsch Partners-designed building will be outfitted with a Schindler vertical-transportation system.
Tenants that have committed to River Point so far include several law firms, baby formula manufacturer Mead Johnson Nutrition and Morton Salt. In June, the floors they will occupy were blank slates ready to be customized.

All elevator and escalator products in River Point are manufactured by thyssenkrupp, except for recessed LED lighting in the door frames and brushed stainless-steel elevator fixtures by Innovation Industries for elevators on all floors and in the lobby. Lobby/fire-control panels by Innovation Industries were integrated with thyssenkrupp controls. The hall lanterns in the door jambs on level two were provided by local vendor Cabworks, Custom Elevators LLC. Woellert observes: “Cabworks and its owner, Richard Waksmundzki, did a great job on the level-two lanterns in the door jambs, as well as the transoms.”

The main lobby is clad in red travertine, transitioning to silver travertine in the elevator lobbies. The elevator-lobby marble abuts a 1/4-in. stainless-steel cladding over fire-rated door frames with custom transoms. A pair of 27-ft.-long Velino heavy-duty escalators will carry passengers to and from the lobby. Further escalator specifics include:

  • 16-ft. rise
  • 100-fpm speed
  • Theoretical capacity of 9,000 passengers per hour
  • Dual central-processing-unit controller and optional variable-voltage/variable-frequency drive technology
  • Design-oriented, slimline balustrade
  • 1,000-mm step width

All with 3500-lb. capacity, the passenger elevators are momentum high-rise gearless units. After serving the second floor, six 16-stop, low-rise elevators serve floors 9-23 traveling at 800 fpm; the 15-stop seven mid-rise elevators, floors 23-36 traveling at 800 fpm; and the eight 16-stop high-rise elevators, floors 35-50 traveling at 1,400 fpm. A pair of service elevators, also momentum high-rise gearless, have capacities of 5000 and 8000 lb., travel at 700 fpm and make 51 and 52 stops.

Project foreman Bill “The Greek” Andrioupoilos observed the jobsite is organized and complex. Andriopoulos said maneuvering the escalators into the space by crane was like putting together a giant, tricky, 3D puzzle.

When your author visited the site, she, her hosts, workers and materials reached the upper floors via an outdoor personnel/materials cage hoist, which was scheduled to be removed in July. At that time, the pair of interior service elevators were set to take its place.

Attention to safety was evident throughout the jobsite. To access the hoistway and pit, Woellert used a key to unlock the padlock keeping a pair of large, plywood doors shut. “No entry” signs were prevalent. “We had the employees from [general contractor Lendlease Corp.] partition off each end of the hoistway for every bank,” Woellert observes. “Essentially, we’re the only ones with keys to those locks. No one comes in or out without us knowing about it. It keeps everyone safe.”

Like Milton in the movie Office Space, thyssenkrupp’s mobile “office” within River Point keeps moving to ever more inconvenient and cramped locations as floors are completed. On the flipside, the pride of Andriopoulos, Woellert and the other crewmembers grows as they get closer to putting the icing on the cake. That, Andrioupoilos and Woellert agree, is “the best part.” Of the theoretical cake, Woellert jokes, “We baked it and, fortunately, it rose!”

A visit to the pit requires taking care not to step on or trip over the thick, Category-5 cables snaking over the floors. The screech of power drills is piercing as employees work to install service boxes on car tops.

The spring weather was glorious on the day your author visited, and the temperatures in almost all work areas were cool and comfortable. But, it wasn’t always that way. Chicago winters are brutally cold, and this past winter, workers had to bundle up to protect themselves. Woellert explains the concrete core of the building holds in both heat and cold. Temperatures will likely be dropping once again when handover takes place. Andrioupoilos looks forward to that moment. “It’s almost done,” he said in June. “Once all the walls and ceilings are in, it will feel amazing.”

River Point, Hines observes, promises to “set the standard for ultramodern office space in Chicago.” Hines elaborates:

“The project will offer dramatic world-class architecture, precertified [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] Gold sustainable design and outstanding views from all office floors. The design features a striking convex structure that will create panoramic views with efficient, column-free floorplates and floor-to-ceiling glass. The building’s impressive three-story lobby will open onto an expansive riverside plaza and riverwalk, the newest addition to Chicago’s unique riverfront.”

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