Jeanne Gang: “We have a longstanding relationship with the National Resources Defense Council, having worked with them on a number of projects—including the book Reverse Effect, an advocacy piece about the Chicago River. That this office literally overlooks the river is symbolic of the organization’s efforts to protect it.


Jeanne Gang is the founder and principal of Studio Gang Architects in Chicago. Photo: Samantha Simmons

“We knew the NRDC would have high sustainability goals for the workspace, and we also knew that they are a lot of attorneys with a lot of opinions [laughs]. Our research process was about engaging them collaboratively in the design, so we brought in a large-plan layout and let the employees get involved by literally moving around the workstations, quiet rooms, and social kitchen area.


An open layout fosters a collaborative environment, but it is also the most energy-saving scheme. By removing all perimeter offices, natural light floods the space from three sides.

“This is the first tenant improvement project in the world to achieve certification through the Living Building Challenge, and we hope people will realize it’s achievable. We want to be part of pushing the manufacturing industry toward cleaning up their materials and processes.”


To help mitigate noise traveling through the space, Studio Gang oriented the office around a central core of glassed-in breakout rooms and strategically located the social kitchen area away from the work spaces. Wood-fiber ceiling panels help absorb any remaining sound.


To clean the air, Studio Gang planted climbing philodendrons within hanging rope trellises. Although living wall systems were considered, their many plastic components contained chemicals banned by the Living Building Challenge’s Red List.


The curving plane of the reclaimed wood trim, propped vertically and painted white, forms a sculptural wall fill defined by the flow of natural light into the space. Wood trim is often harvested during demolition, and once stripped of finishes, it becomes an acceptable Living Building Challenge material.


The 7,800-square-foot office has cutouts throughout the ceiling that reveal fluorescent tube lighting and the space’s original ceiling height.

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Robert Benson