State Street Renovation Project

Tags for this project:
A recent planning initiative helps increase the mixed-use qualities of a historic district. A primary accomplishment was the reintegration of auto accessibility into a pedestrian-focused boulevard, while emphasizing pleasing human-scaled design. A recent planning initiative helps increase the mixed-use qualities of a historic district. A primary accomplishment was the reintegration of auto accessibility into a pedestrian-focused boulevard, while emphasizing pleasing human-scaled design.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States. Historic Commercial District

State Street is one of Chicago’s most important historic urban districts. A recent intensive planning initiative is helping to increase the mixed-use qualities of the district and reintegrate auto accessibility into a pedestrian-focused boulevard, while emphasizing pleasing human-scaled ornamentation. Completed in 1996, The State Street Renovation Project is commendable in its revitalization of an urban community core.

Juror Jonathan Barnett comments, “This project serves as an example of how a carefully designed infrastructure improvement can catalyze reinvestment in an economically depressed downtown corridor.”

Once acclaimed as Chicago’s leading thoroughfare, State Street was known for its nearly solid line of department stores and steel high-rise office buildings. Throughout the years, it remained unrivaled as the place for shopping, entertainment, or simply seeing and being seen. In 1979, a nine block portion of this street was transformed into a pedestrian mall in order to compete with suburban shopping centers. However, the absence of auto traffic caused further isolation and only hastened the street’s decline.

The primary challenge for this revitalization, then, was determining how to knit this street back into the Loop’s bustling urban fabric. Residents as well as businesses were encouraged to give input and view the project as their own. New housing units were being added to improve the mixed-use vitality of the area. Collaborating as partners, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Planning and Development solicited ideas from other public agencies and held weekly meetings with representatives of businesses and institutions.

The designers, in coordination with city agencies and a retail committee, prescribed a program of public-private initiatives intended to build on the success of previous redevelopment efforts to create a timeless street. Initiatives included targeting priority projects, emphasizing upper-story reuse, and considering the creation of a State Street Historical District to provide financial incentives for property upgrades. These efforts succeeded not only in accumulating the widest possible breadth of community input, but ensured the financial and retail investment necessary to execute the project.

In addition to the emphasis on economic and marketing concerns; cultural, educational, and entertainment-focused institutions were emerging as important types of new development. In the midst of this activity, redesign was also a major priority. Sensitive rehabilitation of vintage structures, contextual new construction, and upgraded signage now reinforce the image of vitality, quality and permanence that Chicagoans have long associated with the street. The removal of the transit/pedestrian mall accommodates traffic. Narrower sidewalks, rebuilt with luminous, light-colored concrete, restore a pedestrian scale. Tree and sidewalk planters have been installed near the street curb line to create a “green street.”

New, historically inspired elements complement the street’s historic buildings. New streetlights are based on the street’s historic lamps, circa 1926 - 1958. New S-shaped subway entrances are stylistically appropriate to the historic buildings. Their openness is intended to maximize views of store windows and people on the sidewalks. Another facet of history is recalled with a self-guided Culture Walk that features a series of colorful enameled signs showcasing historic postcard images and photographs of the historic buildings.

As juror Anne Vernez-Moudon comments, “This is an elegant public space design, impeccably implemented.”
Project: State Street Renovation Project, Chicago, Illinois
Site: State Street (from Congress Parkway to Wacker Drive) in Downtown Chicago. The retail thoroughfare was converted into a pedestrians-only mall in 1979, and suffered in competition with suburban malls.
Program: To rehabilitate the street by reintroducing auto traffic, rescaling pedestrian walkways, and redesigning the streetscape with historically inspired design. Emphasis is also placed on enhancing the residential, cultural, and educational resources of the district.

Transect Zone(s): T5 center, T6 core, SD district.
Status: Complete
Project or Plan's Scale: Street
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Project team designers: Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill LLP
Project team developers: City of Chicago

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Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: - 1996