Porcelain panels go head-to-head with Chicago’s historic brick at 444 N Orleans

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Porcelain panels were integrated with a glazed black brick and black stucco facade (Courtesy von Weise Associates)

At first glance, the bright white porcelain of 444 N Orleans stands out like a sore thumb amid Chicago’s streetscape symphony of brick. Sitting at a busy corner lot, however, the building offers a new thermal solution and aesthetic fresh face to the region. Of anywhere in the world, Chicago is a showroom for the variety that brick can achieve. Despite this, the cold weather is extremely harsh on the aging brick that can be found in some of the city’s most neglected buildings. The architects at the Chicago-based von Weise Associates attempted to remedy this thermal issue by recladding an existing five-story office building with a veined stone rainscreen and black brick.

Manufactured by Cosentino, Dekton Aura 15 porcelain panels line the southeast corner of the building wrapping around to form an “L” shape facing the high traffic of N Orleans Street. Panels with thin gray veining throughout were chosen to evoke “whimsical patterns that form on Lake Michigan during the winter,” according to the designers. This facade accent was intentionally contrasted with the black painted brick on the south and west facades, and the east and north black stucco. von Weise Associates was able to add an additional story to the existing building, which they finished in glazed black brick, reflecting a lighter finish than the lower floors.

A huge concern for the client was improving the failing thermal standards of the existing office building, which was constructed in 1896. An additional hindrance to the construction work was the dramatic variations in the region’s weather, which forced designers to consider both Arctic winds and scorching summers when selecting exterior finishes. A new ventilated rainscreen facade was installed to allow the contractor to more easily level and plane inconsistencies. This adjustable sub-frame system even permitted the new rainscreen to be installed over the existing one without needing to remove it, saving both time and historic masonry which was revealed in the interior.

Soon to be leased, this core and shell renovation definitely catches the eye and gives Chicago’s sweetheart, brick, a run for its money.

Photo of the previous existing four-story office building before the core and shell renovation (Courtesy von Weise Associates)