In 2019, Goettsch Partners and its co-CEO and namesake design partner, James Goettsch, delivered a mix of innovative designs that created a vaulted riverwalk space at 110 N. Wacker, allowed an office tower to be built over Chicago Union Station and continued a trend of delivering great designs for sites others feared to even attempt.
Goettsch Partners moved up from 105th to 83rd on our list of the Midwest's Top Design firms with $14.43 million in 2019 revenue, a jump from $8.61 million in 2018. Using three 55-ft-tall steel tridents to hold up the entire western side of 110 N. Wacker to create a vaulted riverwalk space was just the latest in a long line of design innovations from the firm that traces its roots to the practice started by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1938.
James Goettsch designed the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois Tower in 1997 and answered the client's then unheard-of desire to plan for a future upward expansion from the 33-story tower it needed at the time. James Goettsch delivered such a design and the 24-story second phase design in 2010. The firm also pioneered the use of cable-hung glass to create the transparent façade of Chicago's UBS Tower in 2001. In 2017, Goettsch Partners and engineer Magnusson Klemencic Associates came up with a solution to a troublesome parcel of land along the Chicago River that had only 47 ft of available space for a foundation due to active rail lines and Chicago's required riverwalk. The elegant solution is the "tuning fork" design of 150 N. Riverside that relies on giant steel trusses to transfer the load of the 54-story, 1.2-million sq ft office tower to its lean foundation near the building's base.
Goettsch Partners' work continues the legacy of Chicago skyscraper innovation pioneered by architects such as Mies and James Goettsch's former boss Charles Francis Murphy. Goettsch Partners continues to add its touch to that legacy. After having built 150 N. Riverside over some rail tracks, Goettsch Partners and developer Riverside Investment and Development took on another rail-related challenge with the 50-story BMO Office Tower. It's under construction just to the south of the historic Headhouse Building of Chicago Union Station after breaking ground in December. Another tight site was tamed by Goettsch and MKA , in collaboration with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, for One Chicago, an $850-million two-tower residential and mixed-use complex being built in the former parking lot of Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral.
While James Goettsch is still chairman as well as co-CEO and main design leader and does not plan to slow down anytime soon at 78, the firm promoted then-president James Zheng to co-CEO in 2018. James Goettsch and Zheng have shared management of the firm since 2013.
“When I first came to Chicago in 1970, the office buildings being built were the AON Center, the State of Illinois Center, NBC Tower—so many buildings were being built on the East Side of the Loop,” says James Goettsch, an Iowa native who worked construction jobs to finance his Iowa State architecture degree and worked in New York before joining Murphy's firm in Chicago. “The Wacker Drive sites, the train stations were always there. There has been an awakening of development along the river."
The firm most responsible for that awakening in office and residential buildings is Goettsch Partners, always finding a design that works for the available, oft-passed-over sites. That's why editors of ENR unanimously voted Goettsch Partners ENR Midwest's Design Firm of the Year.