Annual Best of Downtown Awards Event 2019

By Dora J. Moore, Board Member & Secretary - Friends of Downtown
October 9, 2019

From the moment everyone entered the Cliff’s venerable main space on Wednesday evening October 9, excitement was in the air. The crowd grew and spilled past the bar onto the deck to enjoy the evening light and lovely views of Millennium Park and the lake. Our 2019 Annual Awards night had arrived, and over 100 people gathered to eagerly observe, present, accept, remark and applaud as a plaque was bestowed on each worthy awardee. 

 Our co-emcees for the night were our Friends of Downtown Board President Adam Lund and our Vice President Tanvi Parikh. Adam began the evening by explaining the mission of the Friends of Downtown organization, describing the Cliff Dwellers Club and outlining other events and activities we sponsor during the year, particularly monthly architectural lectures at the Cliff. After Adam and Tanvi introduced each of the evening’s sponsors, presentations of the eight 2019 Best of Downtown awards began. 


The 151 N. Franklin building received “Gift to the Street” for its achievement of an attractive, welcoming open space at its ground level. In accepting the award, architect John Ronan noted that a pocket park is across the street from the building he designed, and the idea was to pull the open space into the lobby and create “a whole sequence that is public.” Also accepting the Gift to the Street Award was the John Buck Company. Ronan credited John Buck for doing something many developers might not do - giving up rentable space to create open space.


The 2019 Best New Building Award went to 727 N. Madison. It is the tallest building in the West Loop, but it does not give up beauty of form to achieve its height. The residents of this new building not only enjoy amenities within the building but also the proximity of public transit, grocery and other stores, and employers. In this way, its residents will contribute to the vibrant street culture of the neighborhood. Pat Fitzgerald commented that it means a lot to get an award from people “who are intensely aware of the urban situation.” Recipients of the award for 727 W. Madison were Fitzgerald Associates, Fifield Realty Corporation and F&F Realty, Ltd.


 The Southbank Riverwalk received this year’s Best Open Space Award. Adam noted that the award is being given for both the design and the execution of the project. The Southbank Riverwalk site is the former location of Chicago’s Grand Central Station, and it had been vacant since 1982. The vision of the new project began with Lend Lease, and the Southbank Riverwalk represents “truth in design,” as its execution brings that vision to life. Accepting the Best Open Space award were Lend Lease, Perkins + Will, Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architecture and Wolff Landscape Architecture.


 The Best Adaptive Reuse Award for 2019 was presented to Hotel Julian. In presenting the award, Tanvi noted the building exemplifies the preservation of beautiful historic architecture on Michigan Avenue. The modern glass design of the new upper floors is integrated into the original terra cotta cladding, which was restored and repaired as needed. David Genz, accepting the award for Hirsch Associates, the architects, pointed out that the building was not landmarked and didn’t have to be saved, but it was a “labor of love.” Hotel Julian’s general manager accepted the award on behalf of Oxford Capital Group and welcomed everyone to Hotel Julian’s new ground floor restaurant.


 The River District Master Plan received our 2019 Best Plan award. It is a plan for 8 million square feet of mixed-use development, and it will be sustainable. It has been a 5-year process to date including the rezoning of the 30-acre development from industrial to a downtown mixed-use planned development. Over 40 percent of the area is planned to be publicly accessible open space, and it will be an amazing addition to the riverfront. Accepting the Best Plan award were SCB and Tribune Real Estate Holdings.


 In awarding Best Continued Use to Chicago Water Taxi, Adam commented that Wendella began its water taxi on the river in 1962, with service connecting Michigan Avenue to the

Northwestern Railroad station. Then Andrew Sargis, Wendella’s Chief of Operations, pointed out that Wendella was actually founded in 1935, when a Swedish immigrant, whose family thought he was crazy to operate a passenger boat, began trips from Navy Pier. Now 84 years later, the Chicago Water Taxi maintains service on all 3 branches of the Chicago River, with 400,000 passengers a year. And a year-round heated vessel is planned!


 The Best Ephemera went to Box Shops by Related. The West Loop project is a group of two dozen shops and restaurants housed in former shipping containers. The Box Shops also form a community space used for music, movies and a sports court. Architect Katherine Darnstadt, accepting for her firm Latent Design, noted that Latent looks at big plans by way of small spaces, and they consider both social and spacial systems. She thanked the co-awardee and developer Related Midwest for seeing the potential of this project.


 At last, it was time to honor Asif Rahman, as the 2019 recipient of the Mary Ward Wolkonsky Lifetime Achievement Award. He is the former Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Buildings, and he retired in April of this year. Adam Lund completed his introduction by reading a letter that Mayor Daley had written to Mr. Rahman describing his valuable qualities that made him irreplaceable in his work for the city of Chicago. Our entire audience erupted in a standing ovation as Asif approached the podium to receive his plaque. He began by remarking that he loves this city, with its beautiful skyline and its being “a mecca for architecture.” Asif remarked that he had the pleasure of working with great people and named many of them. He said they were his “best examples and were the best at what they did.” Asif went on to say that working for the City was not easy, but he “enjoyed every minute of it.” He sometimes had to be resourceful to get things done, and he gave the example of needing to cantilever a crane platform over a street when CDOT would not allow a lane to be closed. He “made it happen” for the developer. Asif Rahman closed his remarks with this humble summary of his work: “I was fortunate.”

More photos from the event on our Photos Page

Best of Downtown Awards 2018

Smiles, pride, a beautiful room and view—and plenty of great food and drink!  That’s one way to describe the Friends of Downtown Annual Awards ceremony last month at the Cliff Dwellers Club.

It was our night.  The night every year when those responsible for enhancing our city are given accolades.  From Best Public Art, which was Art on theMART, the interesting new laser show that will emanate regularly from an innocuous spot across the river and onto the Merchandise Mart for years to come. At no cost to taxpayers.  To the Best New Attraction—the Chicago Architecture Center’s impressive new home on East Wacker Drive along the river.

It was wonderful to see those who came to the podium beam with satisfaction and receive their due!

Best New Building was the newly iconic 150 North Riverside Plaza, with awe-inspiring decor that cantilevers out onto its riverwalk. The award was accepted by Wolff Landscape Architecture, Riverside Development and Goettsch Partners.

Best Adaptive Reuse was the impressive Bush Temple of Music, which changed an aging but gorgeous (and defunct) piano store and music school decades old into very interesting new apartments on Chicago Avenue, in the heart of everything. The award was accepted by representatives of Cedar Street Companies and Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture.

Best Continued Use was Divvy, of course!  An idea, from CDOT that has caught on and keeps the rental blue bikes on our roadways 24/7. 

The Best New Plan was a new mixed use development, a whole new neighborhood actually, on 62 vacant never-used acres stretching southwest from Roosevelt and Clark, and named “The 78.” as developed by Related Midwest and designed by SOM.

The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and theMART accepted the Best Public Art award for Art on theMART

Representatives of the CAC accepted the Best New Attraction Award for the Chicago Architecture Center's new home on Wacker Drive.

Our Mary Ward Wolkonsky Lifetime Achievement Award was bestowed this year on John Buck, of the John Buck Company, a real estate business extraordinaire.  Buck talked briefly about his long career in the Chicago real estate market and as thought leader for some of Chicago’s best public projects.

In 1971, he explained, he thought he would face a hard sell leasing what was to become at the time Sears Tower, the tallest building in the world right here in Chicago.   But he was pleasantly surprised to find out everyone became so interested when they heard about this incredible new building, he didn’t have to reach out very much at all. “They called me!” he said, laughing.

For years the Friends and like minded organizations have been celebrating decades long projects that began with casual conversations between John and his friends. Upon receipt of the award for his significant impact on the urban fabric of Chicago, he humbly remarked that, when turning bold ideas into reality, one cannot be too concerned with who will get the credit.

by Bonnie McGrath

Best of Downtown Awards 2018

Join us this Thursday, November 15, 2018 for our annual "Best of Downtown" awards event!

The work of John Buck has significantly shaped the streetscape and skyline of Chicago, and we are therefore excited to present him with this year's Mary Ward Wolkonsky Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Friends of Downtown is also delighted to honor a number of worthy projects and programs that are adding vibrancy to our downtown fabric. The Awards we will present on November 15 include:

Best Adaptive Re-Use - Bush Temple of Music;
Best New Building - 150 North Riverside;
Best New Public Art - Art on theMART;
Best New Attraction - Chicago Architecture Center;
Best Continued Use - Divvy Bikes; and
Best Plan - The 78

Stay tuned to our website and Facebook page, and join us on November 15 to learn more about all of our 2018 awardees!

Purchase your tickets today here: We recommend advance purchase, but a limited number of tickets will also be available at the door.

The Friends of Downtown Board of Directors is pleased to recognize these sponsors for our 2018 awards event and the coming year:

Related Midwest
Wolff Landscape Architecture
Chicago Loop Alliance
Market and Feasibility Advisors
Bonnie McGrath

Best of Downtown Awards 2017

On October 11, 2017, Friends of Downtown was proud to hold our annual awards and fundraising event to honor individuals and organizations responsible for improving the livability and beauty of downtown Chicago. Well over 100 members and guests attended the evening to honor our 2017 awardees, and all enjoyed a lively evening of award presentations and dinner.

Our guest of honor and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award was Philip Enquist of SOM. During the festive evening at the Cliff Dwellers Club, the following awards were presented:

Best Revival - Union Station, Chicago
Best Public Improvement - Washington-Wabash "L" Station
Best Adaptive Reuse - London House
Best New Building - Exhibit on Superior
Best Continued Use - Lurie Garden
Coolest Thing - Floating Gardens by Urban Rivers
Best Plan - Great Rivers Chicago
Mary Ward Wolkonsky Lifetime Achievement Award - Philip Enquist

Best of Downtown Awards 2016

On November 10, 2016 Friends of Downtown Chicago presented its annual “Best of Downtown” awards in an event that celebrated individuals and companies that have had a significant impact on the livability and beauty of downtown Chicago. Leading architecture, planning, policy and business people joined together at the Cliff Dwellers Club on Michigan Avenue to recognize the achievements of a diverse group of honorees.

For 2016, Friends of Downtown Chicago revived its tradition of bestowing a life time achievement award, which is named after Mary Ward Wolkonsky. Wolkonsky was a legendary Chicago civic leader who, when she passed away at age 94 in 2002, was widely eulogized for her tireless devotion to Chicago and to the advancement of women in society.  This year’s winner was Blair Kamin, the longtime architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune.  A graduate of Amherst College and the Yale University School of Architecture, Kamin has also been a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. The University of Chicago Press has published two collections of Kamin's columns: "Why Architecture Matters: Lessons from Chicago" and "Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age.” Kamin has received numerous awards, including the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, which he received for a body of work highlighted by a series of articles about the problems and promise of Chicago's greatest public space, its lakefront.

Other awards for 2016 honored the individuals and teams behind some of Chicago’s most exciting new developments, including the Chicago Riverwalk, Maggie Daley Park, Wabash Street Arts Corridor and the Chicago Architectural Biennial 2015.

The full list of projects and awards is:

Mary Ward Wolkonsky Lifetime Achievement Award - Blair Kamin
Best Plan - Fulton Market Innovation District Plan
Best Project Implementation - Chicago Riverwalk
Best Renovation or Adaptive Reuse - Chicago Athletic Association Hotel
Best Continued Use - Glessner House
Best Open Space - Maggie Daley Park
Best Program - Chicago Architectural Biennial 2015
Best Streetscape - Wabash Street Arts Corridor
Best Ephemera - Activate
Coolest Thing - Statue Stories Chicago
Commitment to Downtown - Daley Plaza Farmers Market
Welcome to Downtown - SRAM and Kimpton Gray Hotel


Tim Samuelson at the Cliff Dwellers

The night belonged to architect Louis Sullivan.  Even though he's been gone since 1924, Chicago historian Tim Samuelson brought him back to life on January 25 at a dinner at The Cliff Dwellers Club--a club, Samuelson explained, whose members were kind, considerate and generous toward Sullivan during his "last days," when his commissions dried up and he'd hit hard times.  Among those charitable members was Frank Lloyd Wright, who had worked for Sullivan early in his career.  Even though the two had tension and disagreements through the years, according to Samuelson.

Members of the Cliff, as well as Friends of Downtown contributed to a standing room only crowd to hear about the work Sullivan did at the end of his career.

Although Sullivan's later life was marred with sadness, loneliness and diminished resources, Samuelson explained that Sullivan did small but significant projects.  One such example?  The two-story Kraus Music Store on North Lincoln Avenue.  While the Carson Pirie Scott building on State Street (now Target) and Adler & Sullivan's Auditorium Theater with may be the buildings that everyone knows and comes to Chicago to see, the work Sullivan did as his life came to an end also stands the test of time.

Annual Meeting 2015

The Friends of Downtown 2015 annual meeting was held on Dec. 17 at Chicago's East Bank Club. 

Outgoing FoD board president Martha Frish gave a recap of the year's activities, including: successful "Jane's Walks" and other related events held in May; and our "Art of Local Architecture on Dearborn Street" walks and our panel discussion, "35-years of Friends of Downtown,' in conjunction with the Chicago Architecture Biennial, held in October. 

A slate of new officers for FoD's Board was presented and approved, including Adam Lund, President; Lydia Lazar, Vice President; Martha Frish, Treasurer; and Dora Moore, Secretary. Adam Lund presented Friends of Downtown's new website (up and running, as of Jan. 1, 2016) and highlighted its current features and coming attractions. 

Both board and other members attending participated in a lively discussion covering FoD's advocacy role in development issues, the interdependency of the city and its suburbs, creative uses for existing downtown spaces, locating a space to hold our popular "brown bag lunches" and reviving this popular program and possibly, the annual awards. We are moving forward on all of these topics, and 2016 is expected to be an active and meaningful year for FoD.