The Many Faces Of Westerly

How Fitzgerald + Associates designed the apartments at Westerly to be an integral part of the River West community.

Westerly, a 188-unit apartment building, is the collective work of some of the world’s foremost architects and designers. Just like the River West neighborhood that surrounds it, there’s nothing cookie cutter about the building’s blend of glass and steel.

There is purpose and intent behind every piece of the building’s design, both inside and out. To learn more about how those decisions were made and get some insight into the process that led to Westerly’s stunning design, we sat down with the project’s principal architect, Michael DeRouin, President of Fitzgerald + Associates. Enjoy!

Q: How did you approach this project? What factors were the most important to you?

A: The triangular site that Westerly calls home is a particularly challenging shape for building design because parking areas, and structural grids, want to be rectilinear. The design team developed Westerly’s L-shaped footprint to efficiently maximize the usable area of the building while optimizing wonderful views of downtown Chicago.

Any development is a complex balance of the economic needs of the developer and the functional needs of the end user. Through experience with the marketplace and collaboration with the developer, Westerly comes together as a top-tier example of multifamily living and will be an outstanding addition to its neighborhood.

In terms of building design, Westerly’s location within the neighborhood combined with its sightlines from one of the busiest expressways in the world meant that this building was designed without any “back” faces that might typically be found along an alley, for instance. Every elevation of Westerly is treated with the utmost design touch.

Q: The Chicago Skyline is something that’s treated almost as part of a public trust-that can be a lot of pressure. How did you fit this building within the context of the skyline and the buildings that surround it?

A: Westerly is, first and foremost, a neighborhood building-with a scale that supports its transit-oriented nature and proximity to rail and bus transit. Its form and materiality reflects the balance of bustling downtown and residential-scale neighborhood.

Q: Can you describe your approach to designing a building like Westerly?

A: FitzGerald’s design approach takes into account the building’s site (how can the components fit well together, efficiently and attractively), the client’s program (what spaces are included in the building, how large are the units, what spaces are reserved for amenities), and the neighborhood (what look and scale of building is appropriate, and how will residents interact with their surroundings). From that foundation, a functional plan and compelling aesthetic decisions come together to form the final building.

Q: When you think about the residents of Westerly, what possibilities will the building’s design and amenities open for them?

A: Westerly is a transit-oriented building near downtown Chicago, with outstanding access to transportation, retail, and cultural destinations. The building’s entrance was located as close as possible to the nearby Blue Line CTA station, and inside the building, amenities support resident health and wellness. The whole building was designed to support the busy, varied lifestyles of urban dwellers-whether that’s working from home, or generous kitchens even in the building’s most compact units.

Q: How do you define comfort?

A: At a building scale, comfort can be defined as how Westerly feels as a member of its community. How it is nestled into its site, for instance, and the ease with which residents and guests can interact with it.

Inside the building, the focus is on the individual. Common areas that are conveniently located and comfortable to be in, corridors with pleasant lighting, and units that are intuitive. It is important to resident comfort that their home performs the way they want it to-from how much storage is provided to the location of power outlets for the daily and specialized demands of our fully-wired, multitasking world. The configuration of each apartment, coupled with the finishes, should act as a pleasant backdrop for whatever personalization the resident chooses

Q: What cues did you take from the neighborhood?

A: The building’s brick facades are a nod to the neighborhood’s buildings, past and present. The building’s position close to bike lanes, transit lines, and major roadways meant that access on foot, on bicycle, and in automobiles must be possible and safe for all.

Along the expressway side, a large mural is planned with a nearby art gallery to adorn the side of the two-story parking garage to add visual interest and foster more connection with
the community.

Q: What are you most proud of regarding Westerly’s design?

A: The most striking single design feature is the glass tower at the corner, which marks the building’s entry and stands at nighttime as a beacon of light.