The Gilded Tower: Luxury Apartment Building Obtains LEED Gold

By Matt Baker

southeast_corner_smallStocked with amenities and attired in several layers of luxury, a new rental tower opened in Streeterville last year. This June, 500 Lake Shore Drive received LEED Gold certification from the USGBC, attesting to the demand for not just opulence but sustainability in the upscale housing market.

The most obvious perk in the building is the view. The stunning Lake Point Tower is the only tall structure to the building’s east, and residents enjoy front-row views of Ohio Street beach, Navy Pier and the lake. There are plenty of other amenities that are now common in high end residential properties such as a swimming pool, gym, multimedia room, a business center and more. But those luxuries don’t have to come at the expense of the environment.

Related Midwest developed the project, with Solomon Cordwell Buenz acting as architect and Lend Lease as general contractor. Residents began moving into the 47-story, 714,000 square foot building last summer.

Plans for a previous version of the building designed by Perkins+Will—dubbed the Peshtigo—were eventually scrapped. That design was much different from the realized building. It was planned for a then burgeoning condo market, and featured a zig-zagging building atop a parking podium that stretched the full length of the property to soak in the lakefront views.

“As we looked at the redesign of the building, there were a couple of things that became important to us,” said Don Biernacki, Senior Vice President with Related Midwest. “One was to try to bring the building down to street level.” The property sits on a corner that is heavily trafficked, both by pedestrians headed to Navy Pier and cars exiting the Drive at the Grand Avenue exit. The concrete mass of the original design’s podium didn’t engage this aspect of the neighborhood.

The 500 Lake Shore Drive lobby is all glass, the landscaping extensive and inviting. “We wanted this to be a signature piece,” said Biernacki. “We want people not to see another wall, but to look at a building that’s engaged and functioning.”

Another significant departure from the original design is the site orientation. The building’s axis was turned so that it runs east-west. This has a number of advantages but the first is that views of the lake are actually maximized. All residents but those sandwiched in on the west elevation can see the water.

pool_smallAnother benefit may not be as obvious to renters as the view, but they will certainly advantage from it. “This is the ideal orientation for this type of building,” said Frank Soldano, Vice President Related Midwest. “It’s better to have longer exposures facing due south than facing east and west.”

During the summer, the largest heat gain occurs in the afternoon, when the outdoor temperature is at its highest. As the sun arcs across the sky, it is optimal to have the broad side of the building face to the south where the light will come in at a sharper angle; according to Soldano, having a smaller profile take on the afternoon sun in the west will reduce a building’s heat gain.

The building has a high performance curtain wall enclosure. Low-e glass, insulated with argon and separated by nylon spacers help the energy performance of the system. The floor to ceiling panels make the units feel spacious and capitalize on the views. Careful placement of spandrel panels led to the tower being roughly 30% opaque. “The perception is that it is a glass tower, but it doesn’t have that drawback of being very energy intense or using a lot of energy to heat and cool,” said Soldano.

The building uses destination-dispatch elevator technology, one of the first residential uses in the city. Residents engage the system by touching a fob (which also serves as the key to their unit and to amenities) to an interface in the elevator lobby. Destination-dispatch uses predictive software and optimized cab locations to move people more efficiently and quickly.

northwest_corner_smallThe system also creates profiles for each user. A resident who swipes his or her fob will see the floors they access most frequently, such as the lobby, their unit floor and the amenity level. Someone in a wheelchair may need more time to exit the cab and their profile can be updated to accommodate that.

The all-access key fob is not only a convenience for residents, it allows management to see where people are going and how they are using the building. Over time, this data will help the elevators to learn how the building’s occupants move, and thus how the system can move them more efficiently.

Within the units, there are high efficiency heat pumps that allow the building to load share in shoulder seasons. The heat exchange system is one of the largest factors in the building achieving a 21% improvement over the model.

A high efficiency chiller and variable speed exhaust fans add to the building’s low energy HVAC profile. The makeup air system is responsive to what’s happening in the building; the fan speeds change depending on whether the building’s exhaust systems are at peak or not. The garage has some natural ventilation and carbon monoxide detectors can kick on the exhaust fans when concentrations approach dangerous levels.

High efficiency T-5 fluorescent light fixtures serve the garage; elsewhere, virtually every light is a CFL. Related has a company policy regarding the use of incandescent and halogen lights. “That was something that, very early on in the process, we stated to our design team that we need to achieve and still accomplish gracious, residential scale lighting,” said Soldano.

In addition to occupancy controls in storage areas and back of house mechanical rooms, the amenity level features a suite of lighting controls. Clerestory windows feed natural light to a central corridor on the floor and daylight sensors manage the light level in areas with southern exposure. There are also occupancy sensors in the fitness center, so that residents in the building across the street aren’t facing an empty, always-lit gymnasium. “As much as an energy saving,” said Soldano, “it was a recognition of being a good neighbor.”

south_elevation_smallDuring construction, 91% of waste was diverted from landfills. Fly ash was used in some of the concrete mixes, including structural concrete. To maintain high standards of indoor air quality, ductwork was closed and protected during construction. Adhesives, sealants, paints and carpets all emit low amounts of VOCs, as do the custom millwork and cabinetry.

Until the mid-1930s, the Lindsay Light Company operated in Streeterville. A major component of their manufacturing process was thorium nitrate, a radioactive compound. The sandy byproduct of refining the thorium was used extensively as fill throughout the neighborhood. As a result, any soil disturbed in the Thorium Monitoring Area must be tested and, if contaminated, excavated, bagged and shipped to one of only two landfills in the U.S. The 500 Lake Shore Drive project required cleanup of more than 160 yards of subsurface thorium-contaminated material.

Related has a relationship with Zipcar and offers a discount to residents and encourages them to use the car-sharing service, which has a location in the garage. A similar service for bikes, Zagster, is also on site. The garage also has an electric vehicle charging station.

cabana_smallRain sensors and drip irrigation serve all the landscaping, even the small, freestanding planters. The east wall of the parking structure has a trellis for vines to grow on. “It was really borne out of trying to come up with something that was unique and would give a little bit of a different look to Lake Shore Drive,” said Biernacki. “At least as the buildings go, there’s not a whole lot of green there.” Setbacks on the building created several places to include a vegetated roof, including on the tower roof and atop the “bustle” that extends toward Lake Shore Drive.

The developers worked with the Energy Center of Wisconsin (ECW) on ComEd’s incentive program. But the new construction track of the program was geared more toward commercial development while the residential program is intended more to help single-family homeowners upgrade to energy efficient light bulbs and appliances. The team worked with ComEd and ECW to fit 500 Lake Shore Drive’s design type into their new construction program. Related plans on going through the process with future projects. “The important thing with that partnership is that it leads to creative thinking,” said Biernacki.

“We’ll be able to have them alongside us through design to help explore things that don’t always make it into a project,” said Soldano. “Some things aren’t necessarily cost effective at the beginning of a project. They help us understand the lifecycle part of that.”

Not too long ago, this building would have been improbable. Condos were the hottest game in town—developers would have strung them up between buildings along the Chicago River if they could have secured the air rights—and green building was a lovely thing to do if the return on investment was quick enough. But 500 Lake Shore Drive shows that even though market trends may change from commercial to condo to rental, sustainability has become a mainstay.

Photos: Steve Hall, Hedrich Blessing Photographers

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