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Sustaina-bling-ity: A new headquarters building is not shy about its green stance

Farr Associates
August 2009

By David Sokol

Chicago-based landscape services provider Christy Webber is responsible for taming the greenery at city landmarks like Millennium Park and O’Hare Airport. But sustainability aficionados will agree that the new headquarters of Christy Webber Landscapes deserves its own landmark recognition.

New Headquarters of Landscape Services
Photo © Mark Ballogg
Farr Associates designed a new headquarters for a landscape services provider that uses a few eye-catching moves to signal its commitment to sustainability.

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The 18,000-square-foot, LEED-Platinum building is located on Chicago’s west side, immediately adjacent to the Chicago Center for Green Technology, a Platinum-certified predecessor. Local architecture firm Farr Associates was responsible for both. “That was our first super-green building, and the city wanted to promote the PV industry, so they were delighted to purchase as many PV panels as possible,” studio founder Doug Farr, AIA, says of the Chicago Center. “But when it came to a private-sector project, we didn’t have the larger checkbook. So we had to deliver within a lot more constraints, and in this case we had to do integrated design.”

For example, Farr explains that he was able to achieve high energy efficiency—a 55 percent reduction from code—by installing enough solar-thermal panels to supply domestic hot water and to supplement the building’s geothermal heating. “Or making the building so narrow that you don’t have to turn the lights on, or remove the heat from those lights.”

Those solar hot-water panels shoulder several additional responsibilities. “The easiest way to mount a solar hot-water system is to just place it on little triangular racks that are sold by the solar installer,” Farr admits. “We went to some length to make them a calling card.” Ten glycol-tube panels are mounted on four canted steel beams anchored in concrete and laterally braced by crisscrossing steel cables, about which Farr comments, “The panels are not heavy, but in this case, if you mount them at an angle above the roof height, they essentially become sails.” Input and output pipes are tucked out of sight, on the rear of the panel, and painted to match. Rejecting triangular racks for a custom armature not only creates an entry for building users, but also signals Webber’s commitment to the green cause.

Beyond the solar-panel awning, Christy Webber Landscapes’ roofscape is equally multitasking. A swath of intensive green roof insulates and absorbs stormwater, and it sprouts a row of six trees that provides the building with another green signature. A rooftop greenhouse further epitomizes integration, since it preheats intake air for the whole facility. “Rather than take in oxygenated air at zero degrees, we can take it from the greenhouse, sometimes at a rather higher temperature,” Farr says, then musing, “and one could go to the effort of placing aromatic plants in the intake for Mint Mondays, Wintergreen Wednesdays…”

Comparing the Chicago Center to Webber’s new home base, Farr says, “In terms of technology not many things changed, but we got more benefit for less money.” Indeed, Webber had charged Farr’s team with achieving a LEED Gold rating, so the Platinum achievement vindicates the architect’s integrated-design effort. And that effort has provided Webber with billboards for her business values.

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