Illinois, America’s heartland, is known for its commitment to sustainability and stunning architecture.
From Chicago-based skyscrapers with green roofs to community centers built with energy-efficient materials, the state has become a hotbed for sustainable construction.
That said, you may want to know some of the top eco-friendly sustainable buildings in Illinois to inspire your green building journey.
The top eco-friendly sustainable buildings in Illinois include Aqua Tower, The Charles H. Shaw Technology and Learning Center, and The Searle Chemistry Laboratory at the University of Chicago. These buildings contain sustainable features like green roofs, renewable materials, energy conservation technologies, and rainwater harvesting systems.
In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss the top 15 eco-friendly sustainable buildings in Illinois, including the features that make them sustainable.
These buildings’ magnificence and energy conservation benefits while preventing climate change will inspire you to be part of the sustainable building agenda. Keep reading!
1. Aqua Tower
Aqua Tower was designed and built in 2010 by a team of architects from Studio Gang Architects.
The team, led by architect Jeanne Gang, wanted to build an eco-friendly skyscraper to portray particular views that would otherwise be unattainable.
Aqua Tower, an 82-story building reaching a height of 876 feet (267.01 meters), is one of the top eco-friendly, sustainable buildings in Illinois.
It’s located in Lakeshore East, downtown Chicago, and features office and residential apartments.
Aqua Tower’s eco-friendliness is recognized by its LEED certification.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a green building rating framework that assesses the eco-friendliness of structures based on energy and resource efficiency.
Aqua Tower has two LEED points for being water efficient, three for efficient energy use, nine for site sustainability, seven for excellent indoor environment, and six for efficient use of resources.
The architects used renewable materials and resource-efficient techniques to build the dwelling units. For instance, they used bamboo floors instead of concrete or solid hardwood flooring.
Moreover, they used efficient plumbing fixtures to minimize water consumption.
Most of the appliances in this Tower are also Energy Star-rated. Therefore, by using energy efficiently, this tower helps minimize the burning of coal and the use of non-renewable resources for power generation.
2. The Charles H. Shaw Technology and Learning Center
Built in 1905, The Charles H. Shaw Technology and Learning Center was a powerhouse supplying heat and electricity to the Sears Roebuck school in Chicago.
The building was filled with gas- and oil-fueled boilers to generate power for heating the school’s facilities, including water.
However, in 2005, Farr Associates took over the structure to revitalize it into a green learning center.
The company, highly experienced in sustainable building, was tasked to remodel the building into an environment ideal for didactic learning with LEED platinum qualification in mind.
The firm completed the work in 2010, transforming the structure into a marvelous building full of sustainable features.
After the project, the new Charles H. Shaw Technology and Learning Center had 84 350-foot (107-meter)-deep geothermal wells for heating and cooling without electricity or power from non-renewable sources. This is the most outstanding sustainable feature of this project.
The architects also designed the refurbished facility with a green roof to naturally lower the roof surface’s temperature.
Moreover, it has a rainwater retention garden to facilitate green farming. The design of the garden allows water to soak into the soil slowly, so the crops can absorb more of it.
While handing over the project, the architects submitted enough points to qualify for LEED platinum certification due to the structure’s myriad eco-friendly features.
3. The Chicago Center for Green Technology
Completed in 2002, The Chicago Center for Green Technology is a division of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Chicago Brownfield Initiative (CBI).
Farr Associates of Chicago rehabilitated this 26,000-square-foot (2,400-square-meter) structure into a marvelous eco-friendly building.
The two-story building was rehabilitated from 2000 to 2002 with the following eco-friendly features:
- A 3,000-square-foot (279-square-meter) green roof: It helps cool the roof’s surface in summer and acts as an insulator in winter. Therefore, it reduces the need for air conditioning, lowering energy consumption and saving natural resources. It also extends the roof’s lifespan by protecting it against wind, sun, and rain damage.
- 13,000-square-foot (1208-square-meter) roof surface covered with solar arrays: It ensures that the building is supplied with sufficient solar energy. Besides minimizing carbon emissions, solar energy doesn’t pollute the air or water environment. Moreover, it conserves non-renewable resources like coal that go into electricity generation.
Due to its eco-friendly design and features, The Chicago Center for Green Technology is the first Municipal-owned structure in the U.S. to become platinum LEED certified. Moreover, it was the third U.S.-based building to receive this certification.
Besides its sustainable features, the center offers sustainable design and green technology workshops to empower more people to use sustainable building materials for an eco-friendly Illinois.
4. The Searle Chemistry Laboratory
The Searle Chemistry Laboratory is an 83,440-square-foot (7,752-square-meter) research center built in 1968 at the University of Chicago.
It’s one of the top eco-friendly sustainable buildings in Illinois due to its numerous features that help conserve the environment and natural resources.
The 5-story building was renovated to incorporate sustainable features and enough space for research. It has sufficient space for about 60 students and 5 principal investigators.
Fume hood optimization was the major renovation work that impacted the building’s sustainability. This optimization reduced the laboratory’s energy use intensity by 24%.
The refurbishment works completed in 2009 earned the building LEED Gold certification due to its numerous energy conservation measures.
Moreover, The Searle project employed responsible use and reuse of materials. It also features a unique design that enhances indoor air quality.
5. The Gary Comer Youth Center
Designed and built in 2006 by John Ronan Architects, The Gary Comer Youth Center has some excellent features that make it a sustainable building.
This Chicago-based 75,000-square-foot (6968-square-meter) building creates a conducive environment for the youths in the Grand Crossing neighborhood to engage in productive activities after school.
The Youth Center supports the South Shore Drill Team and Performing Arts Ensemble, comprising children between the ages of 8 and 18 years.
The building’s main eco-friendly feature is a roof garden with a 24-inch (61-cm) soil depth for agriculture.
The roof garden provides an outdoor classroom for the students’ horticultural activities. Most of the crops planted in this garden are harvested for use in culinary art classes.
The garden produces up to 1,000 pounds (454 kg) of vegetables and fruits annually for culinary classes.
Besides, the green roof collects and recycles rainwater for other activities and benefits the environment directly by lowering the urban heat island effect.
6. Willis Tower
Located in Chicago, Willis Tower (Sears Tower) is an iconic 1,451-foot (442.26-meter) skyscraper with 110 stories.
It was designed and built between 1970 and 1973 by architect Bruce Graham and engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan.
Initially, Willis Tower wasn’t built with sustainability in mind. However, during its use, it was realized that the tower needs to incorporate some eco-friendly features to minimize its environmental impact.
Consequently, it underwent over half a billion-dollar renovation to incorporate eco-friendly features. Its green building renovation approaches included:
- Installing efficient lighting systems with smart controls to lower energy consumption.
- Installing low-flow, high-efficiency units on sinks, toilets, and urinals to conserve water. The move saves approximately 11 million gallons (41.6 million liters) of water annually.
- Improving return fan dampers and HVAC exhaust for efficiency.
- Installing new fan gearboxes, variable frequency drives, air media, and fan blades, a move that saves about 20 percent of electricity consumed.
After the renovation works, the U.S. Green Building Council awarded Willis Tower LEED certificates for its eco-friendly initiatives, as shown in the table below:
|Certification Type||Level||Points||Certification Date|
|LEED 2009 Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance||Gold||60||October 22, 2018|
|LEED v4.1 Recertification||Gold||77||October 24, 2018|
|LEED v4.1 Recertification||Platinum||80||November 15, 2019|
|LEED v4.1 Recertification||Platinum||80||November 23, 2022|
7. 111 South Wacker Tower
111 South Wacker Tower is one of the most iconic eco-friendly sustainable buildings in Illinois. It was designed and built by Goettsch Partners in 2005.
This Chicago’s premier trophy class A office tower features 51 stories and is platinum LEED-certified with 83 points. The certification is based on its energy and resource conservation initiatives.
It was the first speculative high-rise building to be awarded LEED Gold in Illinois’s Core & Shell category.
111 South Wacker Tower attained the platinum LEED certification in 2016 after maintaining its green practices.
The tower’s main eco-friendly features include:
- Smart building upgrade system: The building was refurbished with a system that allows for real-time energy adjustments. These adjustments play a crucial role in energy conservation.
- Plumbing system revamp: The tower’s plumbing system was updated to enhance efficiency. This move made it possible to lower water consumption by up to 37 percent below LEED-certified office buildings’ baseline. Consequently, it helps save more than 2.2 million gallons (8.3 million liters) of water yearly.
- Waste reduction program: It fosters the recycling of most waste from the building, saving more landfill space.
111 South Wacker Tower also has an Energy Star label for its commitment to energy conservation.
8. 110 North Wacker Drive Tower
110 North Wacker Drive Tower has 56 stories and is one of the tallest office buildings in Chicago.
The tower is located on the banks of the Chicago River in Illinois and boasts a 1.5 million-square-foot (140,000-square-meter) office space.
The Howard Hughes Corporation, the tower’s owner, sought the services of Riverside Development and Goettsch Partners to develop a building that promotes the health of its occupants while remaining eco-friendly.
The team developed a site plan and integrated sustainable practices throughout the construction.
Consequently, the design incorporated the following sustainability features:
- It was built using recycled stainless steel salvaged from an existing structure.
- 90% of construction waste was recycled for reuse.
- It was built with FSC-certified wood and other recycled materials.
- Most construction materials were regionally manufactured, a move that helped reduce transportation emissions.
- Efficient plumbing systems that use 37% less water than the national average. These systems help save up to 4.7 million gallons (17.8 million liters) of water annually.
- Energy conservation through individual submeters leads to 18.17% savings in energy costs.
9. 71 South Wacker (Hyatt Center)
Previously known as the Hyatt Center, 71 South Wacker is among the top eco-friendly sustainable buildings in Illinois due to its platinum LEED certification.
71 South Wacker was designed and built by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and was officially commissioned in 2005.
This 48-story office tower stands 679 feet (207 meters) and boasts some of the most efficient and sustainable features.
The building was awarded platinum LEED certification in 2019 with 82 points.
Since its construction, the building’s management has continually improved its standards and efficiency to make it more eco-conscious.
Some of the improvements that resulted in platinum LEED certification include:
- Reducing energy consumption by maximizing daylighting.
- Incorporating a 17,000-square-foot (1,600-square-meter) green roof for temperature control.
- Installing a carbon dioxide monitoring system to control emissions.
- An interior bamboo forest for carbon sequestration.
10. 550 West Washington
550 West Washington is a 370,000-square-foot (34,000-square-meter) office building built two decades ago in Chicago.
The 16-story building became LEED platinum-certified with 82 points in 2019 due to its commitment to sustainability.
550 West Washington received other certifications in 2009 and 2014 before attaining its LEED platinum certification status in 2019.
The building’s management relies on LEED Green-associate engineers to develop energy-efficient structures.
These engineers are responsible for the building’s sustainability by creating features that enhance energy efficiency, as evidenced by its Energy Star Score of 85.
The energy-efficient structures have enabled 550 West Washington to reduce energy use by up to 25 percent in three years.
Consequently, the building was awarded the Mayor’s Leadership Circle Award after attaining the target energy reduction in under five years.
The property’s management invests in continuous learning to enhance efficient resource utilization and sustainability. It achieves this by enrolling in more green building classes to acquire more knowledge in relevant green concepts to apply to the building.
11. River Point Park
Initially known as 200 North Riverside Plaza, River Point Park is a 52-story office building at 444 West Lake Street.
Architect Pickard Chilton designed and built River Point Park between 2013 and 2017.
As the latest addition to Chicago’s skyline, the building boasts LEED platinum certification with 45 points due to its energy conservation and efficient resource utilization.
It features a unique curved facade design for natural light that lowers the demand for artificial lighting, saving energy.
What’s more, the building’s HVAC system is fitted with a PC-based control system for efficient control.
Other green features that make River Point Park one of the best eco-friendly sustainable buildings in Illinois include:
- Stormwater management system: It helps conserve water by regulating the movement, collection, and use of stormwater within the building.
- A green roof: It lowers the demand for central air conditioning in summer and heating in winter by creating an insulation layer on the roof.
12. One South Wacker
One South Wacker is a class A LEED Gold-certified building in Chicago.
It was built in 1982 with 40 stories and is currently LEED Gold-recertified with 67 points.
One South Wacker underwent a significant renovation in 2013 to make it more environmentally friendly.
The renovation targeted the atrium, mezzanine, plaza, common areas, and lobby to maximize energy efficiency and responsible resource utilization.
After the renovation project, one employee was awarded the LEED Gold designation for excellent work that enhanced the building’s sustainability.
Today, the property’s management remains committed to improving efficiency, which promotes sustainability and improves the occupants’ health.
13. 151 North Franklin Tower
151 North Franklin Tower is a 35-story class A office tower between Randolph and Franklin Streets in Chicago.
The 807,000-square-foot (75,000 -square-meter) property is a LEED Gold certificate holder with 64 points.
The main features that make 151 North Franklin Tower sustainable include the following:
- Heat reflection capability: The building is designed with a heat-reflection glass curtain wall for cooling in summer or when temperatures rise. This natural cooling mechanism reduces over-reliance on the HVAC system, lowering energy consumption and, in the process, helps conserve resources used to generate electricity.
- A rooftop sky garden: It reduces the urban heat island effect, creating a conducive indoor environment for occupants. Moreover, the garden increases the building’s lifespan by shielding it against adverse sun, wind, and rain effects.
- An integrated building system: It facilitates the easy control of lights, temperature, and security.
14. The Wrigley Building
The Wrigley Building is among the top eco-friendly sustainable buildings in Illinois due to its LEED platinum certification with 81 points.
The two-tower project was designed by architects Anderson, Graham, White, and Probst. It’s located along 400-410 Michigan Avenue, Chicago.
It’s worth noting that initially, the tower was not built to meet sustainability standards. However, it was reconstructed later to incorporate eco-friendly features that resulted in LEED platinum certification.
Its main eco-friendly features include:
- Water-efficient plumbing systems to conserve water.
- Efficient energy management system. This system saves energy by lowering energy output in the evenings and weekends.
- A white roof that reduces the need for air conditioning by reflecting up to 85% of sunlight.
15. 191 North Wacker
191 North Wacker was built by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates in 2002. It’s a 37-story tower that houses offices and residential spaces.
The building was designed to be highly sustainable, a feature that resulted in its LEED platinum certification in 2015.
The property was LEED recertified to the platinum level in 2019 with 81 points due to its commitment to energy and resource conservation.
Its sustainability effort focuses on enhancing tenants’ comfort and resource efficiency. Consequently, it incorporates energy-efficient HVAC systems to create a conducive indoor environment for tenants while conserving energy.
Moreover, the building features efficient plumbing systems for water conservation.
Final Thoughts On Eco-Friendly Sustainable Buildings in Illinois
The above list of the top 15 eco-friendly sustainable buildings in Illinois is a testament to the remarkable strides being made toward a more sustainable construction industry in America.
From skyscrapers and learning centers to technology-based facilities, these architectural marvels demonstrate that sustainability is the future of construction.
I hope they inspire you to be part of the sustainability agenda, wherever you are.