Chicago’s apartment boom needs more top-shelf architecture

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Chicago's apartment boom needs more top-shelf architecture

This is a tale of two new West Loop high-rises and what they say about Chicago’s apartment building boom, which has restored construction cranes to the skyline but has yet to give us architecture with a capital “A.”

The buildings — the underwhelming Arkadia Tower in Greektown and the better-than-average JeffJack Apartments west of Union Station — are the latest products of the construction surge, which is expected to deliver nearly 3,000 apartments to downtown Chicago this year and almost 5,000 next year.

Both cater to a new wave of downtown residents, among them tech workers and millennials who don’t want to be tied down to a mortgage..Both are stocked with amenities, from swimming pools to party rooms, that elevate them to a level of quality once reserved for condominiums.

Both reflect downtown’s rising attractiveness as a place to live, a telltale sign of which is people walking dogs on Loop sidewalks. Both mean more people walking, taking public transit or biking to work, saving energy. Both occupy former surface parking lots, promising new tax revenues to a city sorely in need of cash.

But there’s more to the story than these broad trend lines. These buildings ought to be assessed as much for their public presence as for the private amenities they provide residents. And that’s what separates them. []