Scraps from old wine corks, recycled tires, salvaged pickle
barrels, and other byproducts normally sent to the trash heap are
just a few of the elements wrapped into the new Chicago Center for
Green Technology. The building, which once sat on an illegal dump
site with 70-foot-high piles of rubble, had been scheduled for
demolition before its transformation into the "greenest" building in
Even the architect of the building, which was designed as a
showcase, acknowledges that some features aren't likely to see much
use in mainstream designs. After all, how many building owners will
spend an extra $1,800 to use genetically altered canola oil simply
to avoid the pollution risk of hydraulic oil. But Chicago architect
Douglas Farr feels that green building is finally catching on.
"Over the last 10 years, it's evolved from people not knowing
what green architecture was, to where we were pariahs at cocktail
parties, 'those greenies.' Now people seek us out," says Mr. Farr, a
leader in green design.
Environmental aspects added about 20 percent to the cost of the
$5.4 million facelift of the 50-year-old building, according to
David Reynolds, deputy commissioner for the Chicago Department of
Environment. Using renewable materials like cork scraps and recycled
tires for the floor won't have any payback, nor will the salvaged
pickle barrels used to build a trellis.
But about $30,000 in annual utility costs will be saved by using
things like special thermal windows that can actually be opened to
reduce heating and cooling costs. Sensors turn on lights only when
and where the skylights don't let in enough light. "Rooms like
bathrooms have motion detectors; the lights turn on when you walk
in," Mr. Reynolds says.
Heating and cooling costs are kept down by using geothermal heat,
in which pipes carry liquids through deep wells beneath the parking
lot to heat or cool it to the temperature of the earth, about 50
degrees. Even the parking lot is environmentally correct, using pine
tar instead of petroleum materials, giving it a lighter color that
doesn't heat up as much as normal asphalt.
The 34,000-square-foot building is likely to become only the
third building in the US to get a sought-after certification for its
extensive use of renewable materials and energy conservation.
All this activity is part of a growing trend toward energy
conservation and the use of renewable materials.
Nearly 400 buildings, including Chicago's showcase, are seeking
certification from the US Green Building Council (USGBC), which has
established a four-level scale for what it calls Leadership in
Energy and Environmental Design. The extensive list includes energy
usage, storm water management, and conserving materials. Indoor air
quality is another big issue, giving points for using paints and
other materials that don't emit odors and chemicals.
"When these buildings are new, they don't smell new. They have a
healthier environment so there's less employee absenteeism," said
Peter Templeton, a program manager at USGBC, headquartered in
One resident in Chicago's new building agrees that environmental
design brings intangible benefits. …