The Chicago Tribune sign on the renowned Tribune Tower is one of the most recognized signs in the city. When the newspaper moved out of the building and the property was being redeveloped into residential condominiums, the fate of the famous sign was in jeopardy.
Forcade was hired to save the sign, refurbishing it to fit the needs of the new modernized building redevelopment while maintaining its storied history and importance to the Chicago skyline and the streetscape of the Magnificent Mile.
The original Chicago Tribune sign was built in 1964 from steel sheet stock and after more than 50 years of harsh Chicago seasonal weather, it was in a state of complete disrepair. The developer sought to retain the history of the icon rather than completely remake it, giving us the added challenge of a frame up restoration.
Our first task was to dig deep with the developer, understanding their vision for the redeveloped Tribune Tower and how we could make the sign play a larger role than a simple refurbish and reinstall.
We learned that one of the building’s key amenity areas was to be located behind the sign, including an outdoor patio and indoor pool. So rather than reattaching the sign to the building’s surface, we raised it to make it impactful from both the street view and the view from the new resident amenity area. This simple, yet critical decision helped the developer attract residents by making them feel even more connected to this historic property.
A project of this historic magnitude required absolute certainty and precision. So, we removed the sign and brought it to an offsite facility. This enabled us to completely dissect the conditions of the asset and carefully craft a plan for refurbishment.
We began the process with 3D studies and models, which served as proof of concepts for the construction team, the city landmarks commision and the alderman. A project of this significance to the city required a meticulously planned, step-by-step approval process.
Lighting was one of our most substantial challenges. There was nothing typical about the new lighting needs of the sign. Because we raised it to also be viewed from the back, we had to prudently regulate the amount of light spill so we didn’t negatively impact the residential units in the building.
Our solution was a 1-inch light outline to illuminate the letters. This provided the familiar “glow” the historic sign was known for while keeping the light from causing any adverse effect. To ensure this solution worked, we first tested a single letter on-site in actual conditions, which helped us perfect the lighting design before applying it the entire sign.
We also planned ahead to ensure the refurbished sign could easily be maintained, keeping it from reentering the state of disrepair it had gotten to. We built waterproof hatches into the letters that aligned seamlessly with the support structure. This clever and thoughtful alignment idea hid the seams from the amenity side of the property, giving residents the feeling that sign was designed for them, not just the street side of the property, and allowed maintenance staff to effortlessly keep the sign in perfect condition.
While we work around the world, it’s always rewarding for Forcade to be involved in a historically significant project in our own backyard. The Chicago Tribune sign is a reflection of how carefully and thoughtfully we plan each project for every client, always looking for ways for the design to add greater meaning and deeper connection.