South Michigan Avenue Newcomer Essex on the Park Turns Heads in the South Loop

By Lisa Skolnik | August 7, 2019 | Home & Real Estate

Essex on the Park, a new residential tower on South Michigan Avenue, achieves a host of firsts—not an easy accomplishment in Chicago's sophisticated real estate market.

Rental units at Essex on the Park put the city at your feet. (Photo by Dave Burk/courtesy of Essex on the Park)

Live-work-play—the recipe for success in today’s real estate world— takes on new meaning at Essex on the Park (808 S. Michigan Ave.), visionary developer John Rutledge’s latest Chicago venture. Like other historic projects his Oxford Capital Group has completed, such as the Langham Hotel in the IBM Building and LondonHouse in the London Guarantee Building, Essex is making history for its extraordinary fundamentals—not the least of which is the Hotel Essex next door, built in 1960 as the Essex Inn and redeveloped by Oxford as part of the project.

Essex, the 56-story, 479-unit residential part of the project, is laden with remarkable firsts. The glassy tower, designed by Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, is the first new multifamily building to go up on the South Michigan Avenue streetwall since the early 1880s, when the stretch between 11th and Randolph streets started taking shape. Its neighbors were designed by a veritable who’s who of revered architects, including Louis Sullivan, D.H. Burnham and Benjamin Marshall.

Even better, it replaces the Essex Inn’s unsightly three-story parking garage and brings new vitality to the area, which is rapidly emerging as a live-workplay locale. Given the site’s gravitas, “we had rigorous goals for its design and communal features, and worked closely with the City and various landmarks commissions to meet them, yet pay great deference to all the historic assets on the street,” Rutledge says.

The 56-story Essex is the first multifamily building to go up on the South Michigan Avenue streetwall since the 1880s. (Rendering courtesy of Oxford Capital Group LLC and Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture)

Their design goals incorporated another first: a drive to be the first building in Chicago to achieve WELL Certification from the International WELL Building Institute, which measures and monitors the performance of all the features in a built environment that impact health and wellness.

To achieve the certification—which can only be earned after a building is up and running—“we considered every aspect of the building’s design and its impact on occupants to maximize light, air quality, space use and social interactions in not just individual units but also in the public spaces and amenities,” notes HPA partner architect Paul Alessandro. “The Essex incorporates sustainable building materials and technologies that will create the best possible living experience and healthiest environment for residents.”

A third first ensued from the team’s focus on health and wellness: extraordinary amenities. While there are topnotch renditions of the expected (think game room, demonstration kitchen, indoor pet playpen and grooming studio, media center and more), there’s also a 6,500-square-foot glassed-in seventh-floor atrium dubbed the “winter garden” that soars to the 11th floor and offers residents the largest year-round indoor/outdoor garden oasis in the city.

Repeating hexagons add interest to the hotel lobby. (Photo by Kailley Lindman/courtesy of Hotel Essex)

The atrium’s ingenious design— conceived to cosset residents all year long—makes it remarkable. It sports a verdant 60-foot-high living wall, towering vine-encrusted arbors flanking seating areas, an infinity pool strategically sited to “melt” into Lake Michigan on the horizon, and ambitious fitness offerings that spill onto contiguous terraces faced with retractable glass doors to bring the outside in. Treetop high, the terraces are packed with sleek loungers, private cabanas and entertaining areas. Midnight blue paint and long, dangling pinpoint pendant lamps turn the ceiling— otherwise a maze of pipes—into a starry night sky punctuated by twinkling stars.

Yet another first is the SX Sky Bar on Essex’s fifth and sixth floors, a feature of Hotel Essex that is physically sited in the apartment tower. While other mixed-use developments offer residents hotel-quality services, this setup gives them access to a swanky restaurant that’s also a nightlife venue without leaving the building.

“Every project teaches us something new, and going for WELL Certification spurred us to really rethink how residents interact with their immediate built environment,” Rutledge notes. “Everything at the Essex is meant to make its residents’ lives more active, healthy, productive and vibrant.” Given the depth, scope and beauty of the project, life at the Essex will be all that and more.

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