It’s fitting that in Chicago, the birthplace of the skyscraper, the next generation of skyscrapers, which are decidedly leaner and greener than those of the past, is taking shape. Located in the prestigious West Loop area of the Windy City’s central business district, The Irvine Company’s 71 South Wacker is a glass-clad futurist jewel; it also happens to be the largest multi-tenant LEED Platinum building in Chicago and one of the largest LEED Platinum buildings of its type anywhere in the world. Additionally, it’s an IREM Certified Sustainable Property and has a BOMA 360 designation.

Interestingly, 71 South Wacker was not originally designed to LEED standards, says David Hopwood, the building’s general manager with JLL. Originally developed by the Pritzker Realty Group in 2004, the building was sold to The Irvine Company in 2010, just as a major sustainability effort was completed. “In 2009, we established a sustainability steering committee with the four largest tenants and began to consider what sustainable opportunities existed,” says Hopwood. “We needed their buy-in to make it happen.”

Initial changes to the 49-story, 1.5-million-square-foot tower included strategically revising temperature settings throughout the building to reduce energy use and improve tenant comfort. Weekend HVAC use shifted to an “on request” format; lobby fans shifted to “as necessary” use, rather than run 24-7, as they had previously; and the building’s static set-point was reduced from 1” to .8”, an easy fix that resulted in savings on annual energy costs. Incandescent fixtures in elevators were replaced with LED strips, cutting energy use by 89%—with the utility rebate, the investment was paid off just three years later. Another utility rebate enabled the conversion of over 1,200 fixtures with more energy efficient products; in this case, the investment was recouped in only five months.


A block-long garden shaped by the tower offers an oasis of green to the thousands of commuters who walk by twice daily along Monroe Street on their way between the railroad station and the Loop. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE IRVINE COMPANY

71 South Wacker recently realized savings of over 3.5 million kWh due to additional completed energy savings initiatives, including VFD’s on the chiller and chilled/condenser water pumps, creating an all variable-speed central plant, and a system-wide HVAC optimization platform that adjusts set-points on chilled water, condenser water, static pressure, and supply air temperature based on the actual building load.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 10.09.19 AMThough they didn’t build to LEED specifications, green was definitely on the minds of Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, the esteemed international architecture firm who designed the building. They were just thinking of green in the more literal sense of the word: there’s a green roof, an interior bamboo forest, and significantly-sized exterior landscape for an urban office tower, which was designed by the late Chicago landscape architect Peter Lindsay Schaudt. The eloquent words of lead designer Henry Cobb in his original project narrative published in 2005 give a sense of how he hoped the site would enrich Chicago’s concrete jungle with a bit of soft greenness.

“The [building] manifests a distinctive civic presence not only in the form of its tower—with curved surfaces of stainless steel and glass terminating in the dramatic verticality of bifurcated end walls—but also in the block-long garden shaped by the tower so as to offer an oasis of green to the thousands of commuters who walk by twice daily along Monroe Street on their way between the railroad station and the Loop,” Cobb wrote.

More than 10 years later as 71 South Wacker seeks the TOBY Awards’ highest honor in the Earth Category, its management has already racked up a host of recognition for their ongoing work. It was picked as the Chicago Commercial Real Estate Development of the year when it opened in 2005; then won local and regional TOBY Awards in the over 1 Million Square Feet Category in 2007, and 2009, as well as an International TOBY Award in the same category in 2012. Following the sustainability efforts, it won the city of Chicago’s Green Office Challenge Award and was named a Sustainability Grand Champion when it again won the award in 2015, in addition to local and regional TOBY Earth Awards in 2015 and 2016.

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched Retrofit Chicago in 2012, 71 South Wacker was honored to be a founding participant in its Commercial Buildings Initiative, pledging to cut energy use by at least 20%—they were already more than a third of the way there at the end of 2015—over the next five years and volunteering to work with other commercial buildings in their district to help realize the mayor’s vision for the future of the city: “In the 19th century, Chicago built the world’s first modern skyscraper. In the 20th century, we created a world-renowned skyline. And today, Chicago aspires to make that skyline the most efficient on the planet.”