A newly unveiled proposal for the huge old post office in downtown Chicago is only the beginning of a grandiose plan to build a massive mixed-use development. Architect firmBooth Hansenand developers just revealed plans to turn the underutilized area just east of Willis (Sears) Tower into a retail center capped with 120 story twin towers and a 20 acrerooftop park. Planned in three phases, the $3.5 billion dollar project is anchored by a renovation of the historic post office. The next two phases will increase the square footage to 16.1 million square feet – essentially building a small city within the city.

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Mega projects have become few and far between in the United States as the real estate market has reeled for the last few years, with only the LEED Gold Civic Center in Las Vegas reaching such scales. The driving force for the retrofit and major development is to create a shopping haven on an international scale. The 2.5 million square foot post office, first built in 1921, is so large an artery street runs beneath it, and being inside the loop public transportation, options are plentiful. High-speed rail could potentially serve the complex, but just in case, the design also includes 12,000 free parking slots (encouraging more car trips and traffic jams).

The first phase of the renovation will turn the post office into retail and a hotel crowned with a glass dome, but will also include ariver walkand winter garden. Phase two expands to either side of the post office, adding two, 120-story towers vaguely designated for mixed-use at the east. Two hotel towers sprout at the west and all are connected by a green roof and park. Phase three consists of two residential towers and more parking across the river connected by a pedestrian bridge.

The architect says all the buildings are to be LEED certified and use “potentially ground breaking energy efficiencies.” Further promising that keeping a low carbon footprint will be a high priority.

Economically speaking the scale of the project will need visitors from not just the region, but the country, which can lead to a larger environmental footprint than the building themselves. However, the new construction has the potential to strengthen the urban core of Chicago, encouraging more people to settle in the city’s downtown.

+ Booth Hansen Architects

Post Office photo Wikicommons