Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, but with its storied Chicago School and projects bearing such names as Mies van der Rohe, the Windy City’s architectural pedigree is second to none.

The Chicago School style—with its emphasis on glass and steel—is the architectural essence developer Bob Ranquist sought to capture in 1615 N. Wolcott, an eight-unit mixed-use building in the city’s trendy Bucktown neighborhood. To execute this vision, Ranquist turned to venerable Seattle-based firm The Miller|Hull Partnership; local firm Osterhaus McCarthy served as the architect of record, doing the construction drawings and working with city officials on permitting. “Ranquist wanted something clean and modern, with the basic parameters of the early Chicago School,” explains Miller|Hull principal David Miller, FAIA.

The project is a straightforward box set among a diverse mix of commercial structures and townhomes. “We were trying to keep our building mass simple to pretty much line up floors with adjacent commercial buildings and respect that massing,” he continues.

A large street-facing commercial space anchors the ground floor, with a rear parking garage accessed via a nearby alley. A mix of two-bedroom flats and three-bedroom lofts occupy the three floors above. The construction is commonplace concrete block and wood trusses, but with a “layered-on grid of steel and glass” to provide a high degree of transparency, Miller says. Floor-to-ceiling glass and glass railings welcome in light and offer sight lines to the street, while wide, recessed balconies protect homeowners from overexposure.

Overall, the interiors demonstrate restraint, but high-end Italian cabinets and a large island with a white quartz countertop add a measure of drama to the kitchens. Ranquist wanted clean and flexible spaces, says Miller, and had “strong” opinions about roomy bath suites, showers, and walk-in closets.

For Miller|Hull, the project presented another opportunity to spread its gentle brand of modernism beyond the Pacific Northwest. But for Miller himself, it was also nostalgic: He worked in Chicago with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill after graduate school, around the time the Sears Tower—literally a high point of modernism in the city—was going up. Projects from that period were simple, elegant, steel-and-glass towers—the essence of Chicago, he says. “When we did West Superior [another Ranquist building nearby and a 2008 RADA winner (see page 69 in the May 2008 issue)] and this one, the idea of steel frame was one we respected as a contemporary architectural legacy of the Chicago School,” he continues, “and we wanted to work with that.”

project: 1615 N. Wolcott, Chicago
architect: The Miller|Hull Partnership, Seattle
architect of record: Osterhaus McCarthy, Chicago
developer/general contractor: Ranquist Development, Chicago
project size: 1,565 square feet to 2,200 square feet per unit
site size: 0.25 acre
construction cost: $212 per square foot
sales price: $699,800 to approximately $1.4 million per unit
units in project: 9 (8 residential, 1 commercial)
photography: Marty Peters