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Work underway on $22 million Union Station skylight restoration

The Amtrak-financed project will see a second skylight system constructed above the 1920’s original

Following decades of temporary patches—and countless bucketfuls of unwanted rainwater—the Great Hall of Chicago’s Union Station is getting a new, fully waterproof skylight. Designed originally by Daniel Burnham and successor firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White and completed in 1925, the 18,000-square-foot barrel-vaulted window system struggled with water infiltration essentially from day one.

Repairs on top of repairs meant increasingly thick flashing strips were added between the individual panes of glass. Little more than band-aids, these fixes did nothing to address basic flaws in the skylight’s drainage design as well as had the negative effect of reducing the amount of sunlight that reached the floor of the Great Hall.

Amtrak’s solution calls on Chicago architecture firm Goettsch Partners to cosmetically restore the historical skylight and its 2,052 pieces of glass. Drainage duties will be handled by a second, fully modernized skylight to be built five feet above the original. The project is expected to increase natural light by roughly 50 percent.

 Amtrak
The Great Hall in 2007 [left] versus how it appeared when it was under construction in 1924 [right]. Note the addition of thicker flashing between skylight panes.

When the new window system is complete and any threat of water infiltration is eliminated, work will then shift to restoring the Great Hall’s plaster, paint, and interior ornamentation.

Already underway, the $22 million skylight project recently erected a mobile construction crane on Clinton Street. To minimize disruption to travelers passing through the Great Hall, contractor Berglund Construction is utilizing a suspended working deck with swing stages instead of traditional floor-mounted scaffolding.

While the skylight project is expected to be complete by late 2018, the historic headhouse building will eventually undergo a two-tower vertical expansion under the multi-phase Union Station Master Redevelopment Plan.

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