Chicago-based Studio Gang Architects raised the bar for sustainable design with the completion of the new Natural Resources Defense Council office in Chicago. Not only is the NRDC office the very first tenant retrofit to receive Living Building Challenge certification, but it has also been certified as LEED Platinum. The ultra-efficient office was a massive project for the architects and their engineering team, WMA Consulting Engineers, considering that the Living Building Challenge is a rigorous certification program with more exigent environmental standards than the widely-respected LEED System.
Located in the Civic Opera House building, the open floorplan was key to the design because it allowed for a minimal amount of building materials and maixmum energy efficiency. An open layout office design typically reduces energy and water usage, leaves a smaller carbon footprint and lowers daily operating costs. By eliminating the private offices that were previously installed in the space, the architects were able to take advantage of the natural light that filters in through the large windows, further reducing electricity costs and simultaneously enhancing the work environment. All of the windows are accessible and operable from the interior, providing employees with fresh air and the ability to control the interior temperatures naturally.
A major part of the Living Building Challenge Materials Petal requirement is building material compliance. All of the materials used in the NRDC office were chosen for their compatibility with the Red List, Sourcing, Responsible Industry and Conservation and Reuse Imperatives. From the beginning of the project, the architects decided to reuse as much furnishings and finishes from the old Chicago office as possible. and several reclaimed materials such as the wood trim molding, the felt-wrapped panels, and refurbished furniture were used throughout the office redesign.
All new materials for the project were locally sourced from locations within 310 to 1,200 miles of the project site, minimalizing the transportation carbon footprint of the office construction. The new building materials were chosen not only for their sustainable features, but also for their ability to create a healthy environment. Accordingly, low VOC carpet tiles and the formaldehyde-free composite wood were used in the office and all of the furniture is Greenguard Indoor Air Quality Certified.
For improved air quality, the architects equipped the office with multiple climbing gardens, strategically using specific plants (philodendron cordatum and philodendron brasil) known to help naturally purify the air and provide a healthy living environment within the work area. For assured indoor air safety, CO2 monitors are installed throughout the office.
In terms of energy efficiency, the NRDC office is a shining star of conservation. The entire office is equipped with an advanced lighting system that uses a smart technology monitoring system to look for inefficiencies in everyday energy use. Over 90 percent of the electronics used in the office are Energy Star compliant and use smart plug sensors that automatically power down all electronics at a designated time, resulting in up to 10 percent savings in energy usage.
According to the NRDC Midwest Director Henry Henderson, the new office space is not just an energy-saving powerhouse, but due to its remarkable sustainable features, the office can serve as inspiration for future construction within the Windy City, “The new space is gorgeous, sleek, surprising, and sustainable. It sets a standard aesthetically, functionally, and intellectually, demonstrating that great environmental design is a real pleasure. We have the distinction of the world’s first Living Building Challenge Petal Certification in this type of space—surely this will not be the last. There is a huge demand in Chicago and the rest of the country for healthy, workable spaces that fully embrace sustainable design.”