The James Hotel in Chicago has a completely different look from the first one you did, in Scottsdale, Ariz. What did the client ask for that led to the more contemporary design?

The two hotels have totally different settings-one is more a resort, whereas the other is urban. We were trying to maintain the modernist architectural traditions of Chicago, but we had to work within the frame of a crumbling structure.

For example? We turned the lobby to move the entrance from a side street to a major street but had to keep existing elevator shafts. That was the Miesian moment in remaking this plan: a long lobby that runs the length of the building. We used materials to break it up into segments. The combination of finding durable materials that also look luxurious–like the terrazzo floors, which hold up well to the mud and salt and everything else that people track in-is a tricky balance.

So durability and luxury were important. How did you balance that with sustainability?

The broadest thinking about green products means using less and replacing things less often, as well as materials that are light and cost less resources to ship or move. That thinking was our undertone for the whole project.

Project: James Hotel adaptive reuse, Chicago
Architect: Deborah Berke & Partners Architects, New York-Deborah Berke (founding principal), Stephen Brockman (principal in charge)
Local architect: Cubellis MGDF
Cost: $32 million
Size: 190,000 square feet

Barrisol stretch ceilings
Barrisol USA
In the green spirit of less is best, the design team looked for ways to use fewer (and lighter) materials to finish spaces in style. Barrisol stretched-fabric ceilings do exactly that in the hotel's Great Room (above). "It blurs distinction between ceiling and wall," says Berke of the translucent panels. Made from recycled material, the fabric comes in seven textures and more than 90 colors.

Wood veneer panels
Bacon Veneer Co.
Berke prefers to spec veneers like Bacon Veneer's old growth hickory that use less wood while maintaining a rich finish. "Using veneers instead of solid wood is inherently more sustainable," she says. Found on vertical surfaces throughout the hotel's lobby, including the reception desk (above), the veneer's golden hue adds warmth to the cool space, contrasting with sleeker materials like the terrazzo floor.

Techstyle ceiling tiles
Hunter Douglas
Principal in charge Stephen Brockman likens the Techstyle ceiling tiles in the lobby (above), by Hunter Douglas, to "the black T-shirt that you wear all the time: inexpensive but cool." The tiles–which range in size from 24 inches by 24 inches to 48 inches by 72 inches–contain recycled content, emit no VOCs, and offer an alternative for getting to mechanical systems, meaning no ugly access panels.

Weathered Walls wallpaper
Maya Romanoff
"It looks lush and architectural but still meets fire codes," Berke says about Maya Romanoff 's Weathered Walls wallpaper, shown here in the amenity floor library. Hardy paper is soaked in rich dyes for a variegated effect that resembles natural leather. Custom colors can be created, or select from more than two dozen vivid hues. The paper comes in rolls 30 inches wide and 9 feet 3 inches long.

Ply-type strip flooring
Kaswell & Co.
The flooring in the nightclub (above) and steakhouse is made from plywood strips. Kaswell's Ply-type flooring "takes something you would normally throw away and makes something cool out of it," Berke explains. Wood scraps from Douglas fir, hemlock, mesquite, oak, or maple are kiln-dried and glued into strips from 31/8 inches to 53/8 inches wide and from 1 inch to 2 inches thick.