Chicago Center for Green Technology
In the parking lot a sign reads, “Electric vehicle parking only,” and below it is an outlet. Strange to some, but to the Center for Green Technology it’s just common sense. And after looking at the outside of the building it was certain there’s something smart going on here. I passed what appeared to be a vegetable garden and a few strange looking colossal tin thermoses and was more than intrigued. Luckily, a self-guided brochure awaited me in the lobby. The first page tells a horrendous story, one of a struggling company called Sacramento Crushing and its abuse towards our precious earth. Waste and rubble reached 70 feet high across 17 acres — in one area a pile of debris sunk into the earth 15 feet, the storage of 45,000 semi-trailers of illegal materials, and violations of city permits. Thankfully this story had a happy ending, when the Chicago Department of Environment seized the land and turned the existing building into the Center for Green Technology, the very building I was standing in. The Department of Environment’s efforts paid off when the building received the Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating before any other rehabilitated building in the country! So what does it take to earn the highest rating LEED can offer? I was about to find out.
The Chicago Center for Green Technology focuses on four main elements: air, land, water, and the sun. In combating the three major causes of air pollution in Chicago the CCGT strives to increase energy efficiency, use less harmful building materials and reduce vehicle emissions. The windows are low emissivity, meaning they have the ability to hold in the heat during the winter and keep out the heat of the summer. Two skylights, although known as “energy losers,” actually benefit the space because they are small in size and angled for maximum sunlight to light up the stairwell. The artificial and fluorescent lights have the ability to sense the amount of natural light in each room and adjust accordingly. In order to reduce vehicle emissions visitors and employees are encouraged to ride bicycles; CCGT provides bike racks and personal showers, while public transportation and alternative fuel vehicles are also encouraged.
Traveling to the second floor can be approached in two ways; the stairs or the elevator. I had to choose the latter because this elevator isn’t the same as the one I ride everyday — it uses canola oil for hydraulic fluid — even the elevator is green! To the untrained eye the ceiling tiles might also not look familiar. We have all seen them before, at the breakfast table or in our driveway, but when we first saw them they were in the form of newspapers. Although the building itself is the biggest recycled product, 40% of the new construction is also recycled. So, the shiny tiles on the bathroom floor weren’t just to give the place a little sparkle, they are former pieces of aviation glass. And the Green Corps office floor is made of cork; remnants from wine bottle tops (sadly or proudly I’m not sure which, I helped in lending those). Even rubber from old tires finds new life as the flooring material in the kitchen.
Back outside, this time on the roof top, I noticed not only the breathtaking view but also rows of solar panels. My trusty brochure explained that 25% of the building’s power comes from these solar panels. But then a whiff of onion caught my nose and my thought process turned to the roof top garden. Already in bloom, this roof is tasty, provides a cooling effect and is expected to last longer than a traditional roof. From this view it was clear the colossal tin thermoses had a purpose. Also known by their official name, Rain Cisterns, they hold the runoff water from the roof for use in watering the plants. Combined the four cisterns hold 12,000 gallons of water and provide lower water bills in addition to their conservation purposes. Bioswales also conserve water by directing running water from the parking lot to the wetland that would otherwise be taken to the city sewers. Pervious Surfaces are founded in the pathways and patios around the building and aid in this process.
Not only does the Chicago Center for Green Technology serve as an example of what the future of building rehabilitation could become, it also is a great resource for education. Tweet Home Chicago is a recently created program which encouraged students, business owners, teachers and all of Chicago to participate in the creation of bird houses to serve as homes to 80 of our native species and some of the millions that pass through on their migration route. One clever participant used an upside-down bucket to form a tower section and a funnel for the top. The result was a light house and one that I’m sure is home to some very happy Purple Martins. The goal of this program was to improve habitat restoration and improve our aviation population. The Chicago Center for Green Technology is also a great educational tool for builders, developers, facility managers, architects, and homeowners. The Green Building Resource Center can help with everything from research to hiring the right people and Green Tech U offers classes and seminars. So if you happen upon this strange looking building, go inside and look around, you might just learn something about how to protect your beloved city.