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Marina City

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Marina City

Marina City
Marina City from bridge over the Chicago River
General information
Type Mixed use:
Residential, Parking
Location State Street, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Completed 1964
Cost $36 million
Roof 587 ft (179 m)
Technical details
Floor count 65
Design and construction
Architect Bertrand Goldberg
Main contractor A joint venture between Brighton Construction Co., Owner: Thomas J. Bowler and James McHugh Construction Co.

Marina City is a mixed-use residential/commercial building complex that occupies an entire city block on State Street in Chicago, Illinois. It sits on the north bank of the Chicago River in downtown Chicago, directly across from the Loop district. The complex consists of two corncob-shaped, 587-foot (179 m), 65-story towers, which include five-story elevators and physical plant penthouses. It also includes a saddle-shaped auditorium building, and a mid-rise hotel building, all contained on a raised platform next to the Chicago River. Beneath the platform, at river level, is a small marina for pleasure craft, giving the structures their name.[1] Marina City was the first building in the United States to be constructed with tower cranes.


The foundation being laid, 1961.

The Marina City complex was designed in 1959 by architect Bertrand Goldberg and completed in 1964 at a cost of $36 million, financed to a large extent by the union of building janitors and elevator operators, who sought to reverse the pattern of white flight from the city's downtown area. When finished, the two towers were both the tallest residential buildings and the tallest reinforced concrete structures in the world. The complex was built as a city within a city, featuring numerous on-site facilities including a theatre, gym, swimming pool, ice rink, bowling alley, several stores and restaurants, and, of course, a marina.

Marina City was built in a joint venture with Brighton Construction Company, owner: Thomas J. Bowler, and James McHugh Construction Company. James McHugh Construction Co. subsequently built Water Tower Place in 1976 and Trump Tower in 2009, both also tallest reinforced concrete structures in the world at the time.

Local Radio station WCFL operated out of Marina City in the office building of the complex.

Marina City under construction

Local television station WFLD, (FOX Channel 32) had its studios and transmitter at Marina City for eighteen years until they were bought by Metromedia. WLS-TV (ABC Channel 7) kept its transmitter atop Marina City until the Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower) was completed.

Marina City was the first urban post-war high-rise residential complex in the United States and is widely credited with beginning the residential renaissance of American inner cities. Its model of mixed residential and office uses and high-rise towers with a base of parking has become a primary model for urban development in the United States and throughout the world, and has been widely copied throughout many cities internationally. Marina City construction employed the first tower crane used in the United States.


The two towers contain identical floor plans. The bottom 19 floors form an exposed spiral parking ramp operated by valet with 896 parking spaces per building. The 20th floor of each contains a laundry room with panoramic views of the Loop, while floors 21 through 60 contain apartments (450 per tower). A 360-degree open-air roof deck lies on the 61st and top story. The buildings are accessed from separate lobbies that share a common below-grade mezzanine level as well as ground-level plaza entrances beside the House of Blues. Originally rental apartments, the complex converted to condominiums in 1977.

Marina City on the north bank of the river

Marina City apartments are unique in containing almost no interior right angles. On each residential floor, a circular hallway surrounds the elevator core, which is 32 feet (10 m) in diameter, with 16 pie-shaped wedges arrayed around the hallway. Apartments are composed of these triangular wedges. Bathrooms and kitchens are located nearer to the point of each wedge, towards the inside of the building. Living areas occupy the outermost areas of each wedge. Each wedge terminates in a 175-square-foot (16.3 square meter) semi-circular balcony, separated from living areas by a floor-to-ceiling window wall. Because of this arrangement, every single living room and bedroom in Marina City has a balcony.

The apartments are also unusual in that they function solely on electricity; neither natural gas nor propane serves any function. The apartments are not provided with hot water, air conditioning, or heat from a central source, as was the common practice at the time the towers were built. Instead, each unit contains individual water heaters, heating and cooling units, and electric stoves; residents pay individually for the electricity needed to run these appliances. This may have been a financial decision on the part of the building owners; at the time these towers were constructed, local electric utility Commonwealth Edison provided expensive building transformers at little or no charge provided the buildings were made all-electric.

The Marina City marina

In addition, the residential towers are noted for the high speed of their elevators. It takes approximately 35 seconds to travel from the lower-level lobby to the 61st-floor roof decks.

The towers were awarded a prize by the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1965 for their innovation.

The corn-cob appearance of the towers is said to have inspired a similar design for the Corinthian Tower in New York.

In 2007, the condominium board controversially claimed to own common law copyright and trademark rights to the name and image of the buildings, although they do not own the parking garage portion of the buildings located below the 20th floor. They claim that any commercial use (such as in movies or Web sites) of pictures of the buildings or of the name "Marina City" without permission is a violation of their intellectual property rights.[2]

Current use

Today the complex houses the House of Blues concert hall and Hotel Chicago, as well as an upscale bowling lounge 10pin, a bank, and restaurants Bin 36, Smith and Wollensky, and Dick's Last Resort.

The House of Blues concert hall was built in the shell of the complex's long-disused movie theater; similarly, the hotel was built in what was once the Marina City office building. In order to accommodate Smith and Wollensky, the former skating rink was demolished and pedestrian and vehicular access to the residential towers and the raised common plaza were redesigned. In 2006, decorative lighting, visible for miles, was installed around the circular roofs of the mechanical sheds that top each tower; the towers had not contained any such lighting since the 1960s.


Another view of the construction

To the south, the towers overlook the main branch of the Chicago River with a commanding view of the Chicago Loop beyond it. To the west, the towers offer views of the division of the Chicago River between its north and south branches, the Merchandise Mart, the Willis Tower, and the vast westward expanse of the city. To the north, the towers face Chicago's River North, Old Town, and Gold Coast neighborhoods and the northern neighborhoods of Chicago as they extend toward Evanston. To the east the Towers afford a view of the eastern terminus of the Chicago River, Lake Michigan, Navy Pier, and Grant Park.

From the condominium floors, on a clear day it is possible to see office buildings abutting Interstate 294, located more than 20 miles to the west. On spring and summer nights the towers also offer a view of illuminated Wrigley Field during evening baseball games, 4.5 miles to the north.

Many of these views will be obstructed due to new construction in the immediate future. After more than 40 years of unimpeded north and northwest views, in spring 2006 construction began on vacant lots immediately northwest of the towers at the intersection of North Dearborn and West Kinzie Streets for separate projects, including a mid-rise hotel and a high-rise office building, which will partially obscure views from Marina City in these directions. Also in 2006, site preparation began on a high-rise office building west of Marina City at North LaSalle Street and the Chicago River which, when completed, will eliminate the unimpeded view of the western horizon from Marina City's uppermost floors and roofdecks.

Cultural references

As viewed from boat in Chicago River

The towers' film, videogame and television appearances include:

  • The Bob Newhart Show (1972–1978). The opening sequence included a shot of Marina City, leading many to assume that the character lived there. Marina City is situated just two blocks east of the building which was used for exterior shots of Bob's office. The building used for exterior shots of Bob's apartment sits seven miles to the north, on Sheridan Road in the Edgewater neighborhood.
  • Three The Hard Way (1974), Jagger Daniels (Fred Williamson) is a resident in one of the towers.
  • The Hunter (1980), "Papa" Thorson (Steve McQueen) pursues a suspect in a car chase through the parking garage. His quarry eventually loses control and drives off a high floor of the garage into the Chicago River. This scene was later recreated for an Allstate commercial in 2006/2007.[4]
  • Knight Rider’s 1985 season première "Knight of the Juggernaut" when Michael Knight and Marta Simmons were escaping from Nordstrom's henchmen.
  • Nothing In Common (1986), the parking ramp was used as a location in the Tom Hanks film.
  • British new wave band Thompson Twins use the towers as backdrop in the video for their 1986 single "Nothing in Common", which is part of the official soundtrack for the film Nothing in Common (1986).
  • The towers are also often in background shots of Chicago, most notably:
  • Emergency Call Ambulance ( Sega 1999), Arcade racing videogame - the player drives between the towers in the third case, and the towers are visible from a longer distance in the final case as well.

See also

In December 2012


  1. ^ marjanovic & ruedi ray (2010). Marina City -- Bertrand Goldberg's Urban Vision. Princeton Architectural Press. p. 73.  
  2. ^ Condo ass. claims copyright on Chicago's Marina City Towers
  3. ^ “Pop Pilgrims” land at “Wilco Towers”Dahlman, Steven:
  4. ^ "Allstate Commercial". 

External links

  • A compendium for the most photographed building in Chicago, Marina City - Photos, Floorplans, History, etc.
  • Great Buildings - Marina City
  • Galinsky - Marina City
  • Lecture by Goldberg with blueprints and construction photos
  • Marina City review by a+t magazine
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