Breathtaking views from high-rise condos are a quick cure for Chicagoans suffering from winter blahs.
The city's gems are framed in windows like artwork: a panorama of Lake Michigan as far as the eye can see, a front-row seat to the kinetic action at Navy Pier, yacht harbors, Grant Park and Millennium Park, the Museum Campus, boat traffic on the Chicago River, or even edgy, urban views of skyscraper canyons.
"We bought for the views," said Libby Andrews. "Our condo is like living on top of Chicago, like floating above the city."
She and her husband, Scott, selected a two-bedroom unit on the 67th floor of Aqua, the new tower with the distinctive wavy exterior at 225 Columbus Drive, just south of the Chicago River.
The 82-story mixed-use building, with a hotel and apartments below the condos, is sited to maximize views in all directions. It looks down on the river, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the Loop and the lake.
Aqua is one of many Chicago residential towers with spectacular views. After all, Chicago sets the gold standard (even without the Olympics) for dramatic skylines. The city boasts three of the nation's tallest buildings (Willis Tower, the Aon Center and the John Hancock Center). Plus, bird's-eye views of the city's skyline have blossomed in recent years for two reasons.
First, the trend of modern architecture toward floor-to-ceiling windows has created walls of glass in high-rise condos and apartments, opening up panoramic vistas in all directions. Second, the residential construction boom has resulted in thousands of new vantage points above the city and lake.
Aqua is among several recently built towers showcasing condos in the clouds. Other newcomers are the 96-story Trump International Hotel and Tower, with views along the Chicago River and out to the lake; the 73-story Legacy at Millennium Park; and 62-story One Museum Park, anchoring the Near South Side near the Museum Campus, Grant Park and the lake.
Views were the foremost consideration in the planning of Aqua, said its architect, Jeanne Gang. She credits the tower's curving balconies with allowing residents "to see around corners for unexpected views."
"Downtown Chicago views have expanded in the last 20 years because of all the new residential buildings," said Gail Lissner, vice president of Appraisal Research Counselors.
"Hot new locations include towers overlooking Millennium Park and Grant Park. Astute developers have always recognized the value of views. The same unit may cost 100 percent more if it has outstanding views."
But those champagne views don't come at beer prices. Higher up means higher cost.
"Views are especially important to higher-end buyers. They are willing to pay a premium for an unobstructed view of water," said Alan Lev, president and chief executive of the Belgravia Group. His firm's twin towers at 600 North Lake Shore Drive always will have clear lake views to the horizon, as well as a front-row seat for the action immediately below at Navy Pier.
No matter where a building is located, its higher floors almost always offer panoramic views. For example, higher-up residents in the 47-story condominium at 235 Van Buren in the southwest corner of the Loop can see the lake, the South Branch of the Chicago River and skyscrapers in the financial district.
"The premium for views is about $1,000 a floor for a one-bedroom and $2,000 a floor for two bedrooms," said Scott Hoskins, marketing agent for the developer, CMK Cos.
Sometimes, a few extra floors can make a big difference.
"Originally, we had decided to buy a two-bedroom on the 26th floor at 235 Van Buren," said Alice Angoniolli. "But when we went up to a similar unit on the 44th floor, there was no going back. The difference in views was amazing. Looking east, we can see a good part of the lake, Buckingham Fountain and Indiana on a good day."
She and her sister, Gabby, moved into the unit last fall from the southwest suburbs. Angoniolli works in the Loop, and her sister attends law school.
"Of course, when you go up floors, you go up in price, but it was worth it," Angoniolli added. "Views are very important."
However, not everyone is sold on views. "For some people, views don't matter," said Ron Ruby, managing broker for Weichert Realtors-First Chicago and exclusive sales agent for 550 St. Clair, a 26-story, 112-unit modernistic tower just east of the Magnificent Mile developed by Sutherland Pearsall Development. But he is quick to add: "For others, views are the most important thing; that's all they're looking for."
One surreal sight from 550 St. Clair is the huge Inn of Chicago sign immediately north of the building.
"Some consider the sign an urban work of art, not a turnoff," Ruby said.
"People are blown away by that sign," said Allan Green, who lives in a north- and west-facing three-bedroom unit at 550 St. Clair. "Chicago has great architecture, and we're enjoying the sunsets over the city from our west-facing terrace."
Glistening Lake Michigan delivers a spectacular view during the day, but it's another story after the sun sets.
"At night, the lake is black. More interesting views are of the lights of the city and the traffic along Lake Shore Drive," said Nicholas Gouletas, chairman and CEO of American Invsco, the firm that converted Lake Point Tower from apartments to condos in 1988.
American Invsco is converting the 47-story apartment building at 200 N. Dearborn into condos. Located in the heart of the Loop, it offers wide-angle views of downtown streets, Daley Plaza, the Aon Center, Marina City and the lake. The 309-unit building now is called the 200 North Dearborn Private Residences.
Dramatic vistas often can be seen from unexpected locations. One of them is Michigan Avenue Tower II in the South Loop. One of the best views of the downtown skyline, dominated by the spire of the Willis Tower, can be enjoyed from northern exposures of the 28-story building at 1400 S. Michigan Ave. The 257-unit condominium built by the Russland Capital Group also offers panoramic east-facing views, including the lake, the Adler Planetarium and Soldier Field.
Sorry, but the tower isn't high enough to look down and actually see the action on the football field.