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The Lofts at River East, Chicago
Landscape Architecture by site design group, ltd.


The distinctive "Lofts at River East" at 445 E. Illinois St. in downtown Chicago, just a block from Navy Pier, is what remains of the historic Pugh Terminal Warehouse building, a remnant of the lakefront's industrial past. The building was erected between 1905 and 1920 with 18 sections that stretched for a third of a mile. Only seven sections of the original building remain, marked by the verdigris colored pavilion (pyramid) rooftops. The rooftops of buildings 5 & 6 (right) are the areas shown in this feature. The building has lived many lives. It was revived as North Pier in the early 1990s as a shopping and dining destination. There were plans for condos, which fell through when the market crashed in 2008. Recently, the building underwent an "18-month gutting," resulting in 285 new housing units known as Lofts at River East. Studios start at $2,095. The largest units (3 bedrooms) start at $5,035.

The Lofts at River East is a 5-story, 547,000 square foot building in Chicago's Streeterville community. It was originally constructed in 1905, and previously housed the historic Pugh Terminal Warehouse. Positioned between the Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier, Streeterville has a storied past as a former railroad and has been through many years of blight and neglect.

Since the growth of Chicago's entertainment industry and the extension of Navy Pier, the neighborhood has seen resurgence. Today, the street surrounding the Lofts at River East is dotted with residential and professional high-rises, hotels, restaurants, grocery stores and a movie theater. Across the street is public transportation access, a large public park with a fenced-in dog friendly area and bike share stations nearby.


The roof deck hardscape is custom cut granite pavers on pedestals. The Zen Rock Garden is illuminated by 13.75" dia. 'Moonlight' globes with 7-watt compact fluorescent bulbs. The molded polyethylene globes are "extremely impact resistant," per the manufacturer.

Completed in the fall of 2015 after sitting empty for many years, the 18-month gut rehabilitation of this historic building added modern space for retail, office, restaurants and high-end residential loft units, a vibrant mixed-use amenity for the community. The design of the building preserved vintage architectural features. The original brick walls, enormous wood support columns and plank ceilings were largely left in place. Those historic elements are offset by modern designs, new windows and upgraded mechanical systems. As part of a multidisciplinary consultant team, site design group, ltd. led the design and detailing of an expansive and innovative amenity deck on top of the existing rooftop with a sparse budget of $900,000.

The amenity deck design reflects the architectural intent through a combination of modern and rustic design elements. One of the biggest challenges of the rooftop was the large amount of existing HVAC equipment that could not be moved. The design seamlessly incorporates several elevation changes while still providing accessible, unique, and functional design elements. The deck features a wide range of programming and uses to accommodate the various tenants and residents in the building. The hardscape palette of precast concrete pavers, crushed stone, ipe furnishings, wall cladding, screening and trellises complements the brick and steel aesthetic of the building, while the green space - encompassing more than half of the roof area - provides softness and movement through textural native and adapted plantings.


The 19.6-watt LED bollards are made of marine grade aluminum. The light fixtures mounted to the trellis poles and to the brick walls façade are 'F+P' LEDs. The light glows through the clear acrylic cylindrical housings for a lantern effect. The benches are a hard, dense and water-resistant native wood of Central and South America called Peltogyne, aka "Amaranth" or "Purpleheart." The wood is light brown when first cut, but takes on a darker purple hue as it ages. The planters include a sedum mix (foreground) and a variety of juniper shurbs.

A central garden located adjacent to the elevator entrance is planted with lush, seasonal ornamental grasses and perennials, greeting the visitor as they enter the amenity deck, and providing ample opportunities for small gatherings. Two bar areas, five barbecue areas and a "chef's kitchen" with adjacent seating area provide ample opportunity for cooking meals, rooftop happy hour, and hosting special events. A movie screen with seating lawn and overlooking lounge area is a popular spot for summer movie nights, morning yoga practice and celebratory events. A sun deck overlooking the Chicago River and Lake Michigan provides respite and relaxation. Two sunken gabion fire pits with surrounding seating offer evening gathering opportunities and ample views of the Chicago skyline. On the north side of the building offers privacy and reflection with a stone Zen Garden lit by Moonlight globes.

With myriad residential floor plans and the attraction of a bustling and vibrant community, the Lofts at River East quickly attracted commercial, restaurant, and retail tenants, as well as a diverse range of residents, including professional singles and couples, students and entrepreneurs who work at home. Contributing to the success of this historic rehabilitation, the rooftop amenity deck added much needed green space for this community, quickly becoming a popular spot for social events, relaxation, and respite throughout the day and night.



There are two sunken custom gabion fire pits on the roof deck with surrounding seating. Linear LED strip lighting for wet locations is mounted in extruded aluminum housings under the railings and tucked under the lip of the ipe seating.

AH River East LLC / Group Fox
CharterSills: architectural lighting design
Fitzgerald Associates Architects
Ghafari Associates
Intrinsic Landscaping
Klaucens & Associates
Shiner and Associates
site design group, ltd. (landscape architecture)
Stearn-Joglekar Ltd.


The roof theatre terrace offers sofa-like lounge seating, tables and a trellis cover. The steps from the terrace deck to the lawn have 3.4-watt LED recessed wall luminaires with aluminum faceplates. Four Moonlight globes are spaced along the low deck wall. The turf is a bluegrass/rye turf mix. The north side of the space is closed in by tall ipe privacy fencing.


A central garden located adjacent to the elevator entrance is planted with seasonal ornamental grasses and perennials, greeting the visitor as they enter the amenity deck. There are two bar and five barbecue areas and a "chef's kitchen" with adjacent seating. The lawn and overlooking lounge area is a popular spot for summer movie nights, morning yoga and various events. The sun deck has views of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. The two sunken fire pits with surrounding seating are popular gathering areas.

As seen in LASN magazine, April 2018.

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November 20, 2019, 3:07 pm PDT

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