Launch Slideshow

The team compiled a database of information that helped determine carbon emissions for buildings in the Chicago Loop. These emissions can now be visualized on a color spectrum from red (very high emissions) to dark green (low emissions).

Award: Chicago Central Area Decarbonization Plan

Award: Chicago Central Area Decarbonization Plan

  • The team compiled a database of information that helped determine carbon emissions for buildings in the Chicago Loop. These emissions can now be visualized on a color spectrum from red (very high emissions) to dark green (low emissions).

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    The team compiled a database of information that helped determine carbon emissions for buildings in the Chicago Loop. These emissions can now be visualized on a color spectrum from red (very high emissions) to dark green (low emissions).

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    Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

    The team compiled a database of information that helped determine carbon emissions for buildings in the Chicago Loop. These emissions can now be visualized on a color spectrum from red (very high emissions) to dark green (low emissions).

  • One of the information factors collected for each building was age: not to determine whether structures need to be torn down, but rather to investigate possibilities for reuse.

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    One of the information factors collected for each building was age: not to determine whether structures need to be torn down, but rather to investigate possibilities for reuse.

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    Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

    One of the information factors collected for each building was age: not to determine whether structures need to be torn down, but rather to investigate possibilities for reuse. Office buildings built prior to 1950 could potentially be reused as residential towers.

  • As for buildings from the second half of the last century, these inefficient air-conditioned boxes are most likely in need of efficiency upgrades.

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    As for buildings from the second half of the last century, these inefficient air-conditioned boxes are most likely in need of efficiency upgrades.

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    Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

    As for buildings from the second half of the last century, these inefficient air-conditioned boxes are most likely in need of efficiency upgrades.

  • Buildings completed between 1975 and 2000.

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    Buildings completed between 1975 and 2000.

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    Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

    Buildings completed between 1975 and 2000.

  • Buildings built from 2000 to the present.

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    Buildings built from 2000 to the present.

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    Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

    Buildings built from 2000 to the present.

  • Chicago is already known for having a lot of green roofs, and the team suggests taking that to the next level: greening every roof surface possible.

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    Chicago is already known for having a lot of green roofs, and the team suggests taking that to the next level: greening every roof surface possible.

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    Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

    Chicago is already known for having a lot of green roofs, and the team suggests taking that to the next level: greening every roof surface possible. Because the typical Loop building is a tall tower with a relatively small footprint, there isnt enough room to install photovoltaics that could make a dent in energy usage. So reducing heat island effects to relieve the loads on air-conditioning systems is a more effective use of roof space.

  • This map of the Loop does more than outline streets; it highlights a proposed system of pedways to encourage walking.

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    This map of the Loop does more than outline streets; it highlights a proposed system of pedways to encourage walking.

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    Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

    This map of the Loop does more than outline streets; it highlights a proposed system of pedways to encourage walking. This over- and underground system would include access to public transit hubs and a green corridor.

  • To reduce carbon emissions from cars, the team encourages pedestrian traffic.

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    To reduce carbon emissions from cars, the team encourages pedestrian traffic.

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    Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon G

    To reduce carbon emissions from cars, the team encourages pedestrian traffic. Probably the most significant part of the plan is to restrict vehicular traffic on Monroe Street (one of the Loop's main east-west thoroughfares) to two lanes, reserving the other half of the street for a public greenway with pedestrian-only access.

  • The plan doesn't call for green roofs just to blanket the city in sedum.

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    The plan doesn't call for green roofs just to blanket the city in sedum.

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    Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon G

    The plan doesn't call for green roofs just to blanket the city in sedum. There are other ways to put that new space to good use. In this example, a school (complete with outdoor play areas) occupies one rooftop--suggesting a new way to develop a dense downtown district.

By now, most architects realize that in order to mitigate global warming, we need not only build more efficient new buildings, but also retrofit the existing building stock so that it meets modern standards of efficiency. But if that retrofitting is done in a scattershot way, who’s to say what progress has been made?

The team at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, known for net-zero and positive energy designs, lent its expertise to its hometown of Chicago in an effort to help the city meet its carbon reduction goals, which include 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions below 1990 levels by 2020 and 100 percent reduction in carbon emissions for new and renovated buildings by 2030, in accordance with the 2030 Challenge.

The team created a 3D model of more than 550 downtown buildings, embedding information such as energy consumption, size, age, use, and estimated carbon footprint. This model helps determine which buildings need to be renovated to be brought up to standard, so that they can, potentially, gain new life as reprogrammed structures. Then the city can use the existing building stock rather than new construction to answer demand for more space. “I like the idea of operating on the scale of an entire city, and how you might be able to, in a piecemeal way, remedy” the carbon emissions problem, juror Frank Barkow said.

And the plan does not stop with buildings analysis. The architects propose a series of new infrastructure systems, reducing vehicular traffic to cut down on emissions, creating a series of new “pedways” (pedestrian walkways, both above and below ground, the latter to be used during Chicago’s harsh winters), and more. There is even a recommendation to turn the Loop’s existing underground tunnels into a pneumatic waste-disposal system that would handle trash without requiring gas-guzzling trucks to collect it.

“It [the plan] connects everybody together, and it creates this holistic idea about a neighborhood,” juror Cristobal Correa said. “In terms of trying to find urban solutions to urban problems that relate to sustainability, I think it’s really interesting.” Our jury was not the only group to think so: Discussions are already under way with the city to discuss the adoption of some of the firm’s proposals, as well as a possible implementation strategy and schedule.