Contemporaine Architect, Ralph Johnson

What does the iconic Boeing World Headquarters and the Contemporaine Condominium at 201 West Grand Avenue in Chicago have in common? They were both designed by architect Ralph Johnson, Global Design Director for Perkins+Will.

If you love architecture and live in Chicago, you’re no doubt familiar with the work of Ralph Johnson. Whether it’s the sight of the Boeing World Headquarters hanging from its exposed iron trusses, or the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum nestled into the landscape of Lincoln Park, Johnson’s work has been recognized world-wide for its excellence.

Unlike some architects, Johnson doesn’t cling to a singular design feature intended as a wink to the casual observer that THIS is a Ralph Johnson design. As was described in a Chicago Architecture Foundation article, Johnson’s work “respond(s) to the environment in which they exist and complement the surrounding culture and setting.”

While most well-known for his large commercial and public projects, monuments that stand out both for their scale and design, it’s the Contemporaine, a boutique residential building on the tightest of city lots, that has garnered over a dozen awards and recognitions.

Colin Kihnke and Ralph Johnson Team Up to Design the Contemporaine

Contemporaine developer, Colin Kihnke, approached Johnson in the early 2000’s to design the building. A relative newcomer at the time he imagined the Contemporaine, Kihnke shared an appreciation of Modernism with Johnson and was convinced to play a part in its architectural revival in Chicago.

“One day I get a call from Colin. He’s only 30 years old, you know, and he likes modern…likes pushing the envelope and going against the grain. It’s part of his kick. He told me what he what he was after, and I knew we would be a perfect fit,” Johnson told reporter Dan Schuyler of YoChicago.

Johnson continued, “Chicago is the home of modern architecture. The foundation of modern architecture began here. Then some 25 years ago it fell out of favor. It gave way to classicism, to a retro-attitude. The perception developed that people favored traditional, and developers decided to give the people what they wanted. They’re still doing it, but there is a movement afoot to get away from wedding cake and cookie cutter buildings and to take the kind of design risks that put Chicago on the map architecturally over 100 years ago. The Contemporaine is a very structurally integrated building, yet it is functionally traditional.”

“The firm took that dictate and ran with it, designing an 11-story condominium tower atop a four-story base of retail and parking. “It's an urban collage in terms of massing,” Johnson explains in the 2005 Project of the Year article in Residential Architect. “(The Contemporaine’s) variety of uses and building types is a reflection of the neighborhood.”

An Award Winning Building That Continues to Delight Those Who Love Architecture

In all, the Contemporaine has garnered over a dozen awards and accolades that have spanned the 15 years since it was inspired, designed and constructed.

  • National Honor Award, 2005, American Institute of Architects
  • Design Excellence Awards, 2015, Chicago Chapter, AIA
  • Project of the Year, 2005, Residential Architect Magazine
  • Distinguished Building Honor Award, 2004, Chicago Chapter, AIA
  • Best New Residential Project, 2005, Friends of Downtown
  • Housing Committee Award, 2006, AIA

In addition, the Contemporaine has and continues to generate positive reviews in the press.

The Contemporaine is a special residential building that will appeal to a special client. With just 26 units and 11 residential floors, this Ralph Johnson design eschews the mega-sized structure and over-blown “amenities” of most residential structures in favor an appreciation of the urban landscape and architecture that celebrates and complements River North. Panoramic views are, of course, part of the experience, yet the structure itself delights and invigorates those who call it home.

If you’d like to visit the Contemporaine and Unit 903 to imagine life in this Chicago jewel, please contact Ivona Kutermankiewicz at 773.865.5661.