Building Architect

John Buenz

John received his undergraduate degree in architecture at Iowa State and a masters degree at Georgia Tech. For two years, he worked as an apprentice in architectural planning and design for Eero Saarinen at his office in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. John learned from him that buildings must express their functionality, and that they should have a beneficial influence on the surroundings of their location. Furthermore he learned that excellent design takes time and that initial ideas may not be ideal, “Best to put them aside, let things percolate.” He remembers that Saarinen was very critical of his own creative work from architectural concepts to the final plan and design.

In 1960 John moved to Chicago to learn more about the integration of the structural and mechanical components within the field of architecture. He was very fortunate to gain this knowledge by working for Keck and Keck Architects, and then in 1963 for Solomon Cordwell and Associates. Lou Solomon and John Cordwell had just completed Sandburg Village. Lou’s technical and construction experience along with John’s creative planning approach made Sandburg Village one of the most successful urban renewal developments in the country. In 1967 Lou made John Buenz a partner, and the firm’s name was changed to Solomon Cordwell Buenz and Associates, Inc (SCB).

In the 1960’s, developers commissioned the office of Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and SCB to create a plan to redevelop the area bounded by Randolph St., Michigan Ave., the Chicago River, and Lake Michigan, known as The Illinois Center. Harbor Point evolved from that plan, and John was its lead architectural planner and designer from SCB.

Paul Schwendener was the developer client. Paul and John became a team to create an architectural solution that would be appropriate to this prominent site in terms of living accommodations and urban design. It was in the early 1970’s when John first took pen to paper. He developed a triangular floor plan with asymmetrical, extended circular corners to maximize outward views from within the dwelling units, and to visually compliment the corner at Randolph Street and the lake front. The original site plan consisted of three 60 story towers along Lake Shore Drive and the lake, but the recession of the 1970’s reduced the project. In the end, only one tower of 54 stories was built, and the property to the north was sold.

John and his SCB team planned and designed the Harbor Point tower and its supportive amenities. He had a hand in all aspects of the project, from the overall general design down to the smallest details. Jeanne Hartnett was the Interior Designer, and Alfred Benesch & Company were the structural engineers.

Harbor Point is one of John’s favorite SCB apartment towers. The apartments are very accommodating with broad outward views. The triangle glass tower with the projected circular corners holds the corner at Randolph Street and Lakeshore Drive. “It is an efficient structure with a lovely curved shape that allows for a beautiful play of light on all the glass.”

Recently while approaching the bike path along the lake, a conversation was overheard among a group of people. One person said while pointing to Harbor Point, “If I could live around here I’d want to live in that black building.” When John Buenz was told that story, he smiled broadly and said, “That’s what I love to hear.”

June 13, 2013