Lobbying for Change: 200 West Madison Shows Off its Sustainability

By Matt Baker

Like the foyer to a home, the spot where you shake off your umbrella before venturing further into the building, the most welcoming part of a skyscraper is its lobby. The interaction between a lobby and a visitor or tenant can also be demonstrative of the building on whole. Is it close and dark or open and engaging? Do people rush through or do some sit and converse?

Prospective tenants take note of lobbies too. And while location and amenities remain the principal factors in a site search, businesses now pay closer attention to the impact of the built environment on employee health and productivity. There are a number of ways to proclaim your building’s sustainability right when people walk in the door.

“We’ve had quite a few tenants who moved in recently that selected our building because they were excited by our sustainable platform,” said Katie Sakach, the General Manager at 200 West Madison, a 928,000-square-foot, Class A building in the Loop.


Transwestern manages and leases the building, which is owned by MEPT 200 West Madison LLC, advised by Bentall Kennedy. In collaboration with Fyoog, an Austin-based firm that advises on the intersection of architecture, planning and art, they just completed a facelift of the building lobby. The glass cube lobby serves as the base from which 45 stories of saw-toothed office space arises, though it was added after the 1982 erection of the original structure.

The most conspicuous sustainable addition to the lobby is a 30-foot-tall living wall. Designed, installed and maintained by McFarlane Douglass, and making use of GSky’s Versa Wall system, this vertical mix of art and nature extends from the floor to the ceiling of the lobby, where the collection of over 2,700 individual plants take in the ample sunlight. “Every day, people go up to it,” Sakach said. “They get very close to the living wall to see if it’s real or not.”

Another installation melds art with sustainability: Hypnotic Field, made entirely from salvaged wood. The Douglas fir timbers were reclaimed from vinegar tanks at a Heinz pickling plant in Freemont, OH and treated with a vegetable-based stain. The rows of timber are meant to suggest the experience of being in a car, passing crop fields along Midwest highways.

There is another sustainable and eye-catching item in the 200 West Madison lobby, though it’s not a piece of art. The building is the first in Illinois and the second in the world to complete a LEED recertification using the new LEED Dynamic Plaque platform.

This is a public-facing platform that measures building performance in near-real time; it’s like a building automation system, but with an attractive display and tuned for five types of efficiency. First introduced in 2014, LEED Dynamic Plaques assess energy use, water consumption, waste output, occupant transportation and human experience.

The building had previously achieved LEED Silver, but recertified at Gold as part of the process in applying for the Dynamic Plaque. “Receiving and using the plaque was really a game changer for us,” said Sakach. “We evaluate all of our practices on a continual basis and it allows us to react quicker.”

A tablet in the management office is also dedicated to the performance-scoring platform, so that operations can be monitored day-to-day. “You’re continually accountable for your performance,” Sakach said. “It’s a great challenge to constantly keep up with all of your efforts.”

But the installation of the display in the tenant lounge is the real coup, as it engages building occupants directly and helps open the discussion with them on sustainability. “I can’t say there’s one week that’s gone by without a very positive comment from our tenants or one of their clients or guests,” Sakach said. Tenants like to be able to use sustainability as a tool for recruiting, but they also are likelier to consider taking more efficient measures in their own buildouts.


While the lobby is testament to 200 West Madison’s sustainability, efficiency efforts don’t end there. “A significant amount of capital has been put into the building over the last couple of years, not only aesthetically, but also with sustainability in mind,” said Sakach.

Newer amenities include the tenant lounge—which contains three additional living walls—a yoga studio and a bike room. The existing bike room was improved to encourage tenants to bike to work by increasing its capacity with stackable, dual bike racks, and adding a repair station. The building’s restrooms and corridors have been improved and all 18 elevator cars were recently modernized. A new building automation system has also helped to make the 34-year-old building competitive with others in the Loop.

200 West Madison also uses ACS Cloud, a cloud-based HVAC system developed by Genea. The software empowers tenants to manage their own energy use, without needing prior approval to run air handling after hours or on weekends. Surveys showed that the majority of the building’s 60+ tenants adhered to a regular business hour, Monday through Friday schedule. Keeping the system running for those few who do have extended hours was not only unsustainable, it was expensive. “It’s just expending energy consumption where it’s not warranted,” said Sakach.

Nearly 95% of the tenants opted into the program, which is expected to reduce the annual HVAC budget by 10%. “One of our tenants said he was on a tarmac on an airplane and had a last-minute request from someone at his office [for] overtime HVAC, and he was able to do it right from his phone,” Sakach said.

The building has received a number of awards, including the 2016 Outstanding Building of the Year from BOMA in the 500,000 to 1 Million Square Feet category, both in Chicago and regionally. Sakach credits that to a combination of tenant engagement and commitment from the building managers, owners and partners. “The lobby renovation and all the recent renovations to the building have been such a great success because of all the partnerships we’ve had,” she said. “It’s important to always be at your best, and to perform as well as you can for your tenants and your clients.”

Photos: Steve Hall

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