The Commonwealth Plaza Residence in Chicago

Green Building and Renovation Month 2010

Name: Submitted by Pam Lamaster-Millett of Searl Lamaster Howe Architects
Location: Chicago, Illinois

Tell us about this home building or renovation project: This project encompasses the combination and complete renovation of two units on the top floor of the south building at Mies van der Rohe’s Commonwealth Plaza for an artist and community activist. The contrast of the lushness of Lincoln Park unfolding to the south and the urban prairie of the city scape stretching the western horizon served as the catalyst for the design of the space. A diagonal line cuts through the apartment and serves as the boundary between two contrasting material palettes. Recycled wood and cork evoke the organic qualities of the park while polished terrazzo and clean lined millwork respond to the hardscape of the city.A secondary influence was the desire to respectfully rebel against the rigorous order imposed by the building, one of Mies’ landmark residential highrises. Independent volumes, free of the perimeter walls and marked in contrasting colors provide storage and display for the vast holdings of the residents including a number of the husband’s paintings. A hallway lined with shelving serves also as a library and a privacy screen, filtering views of the sister building to the north. Minimizing the environmental impact of the construction was another key attribute of the project. Great efforts were extended to recycle construction debris. Local availability and sustainable materials and business practices guided the specification process. Energy usage influenced everything from the overall lighting design of the space to the finish on cabinet door pulls.

What specific green materials, techniques, or processes went into this project?

Several green products were used for flooring including: Fritztile recycled stone, cork tiles, and salvaged wood herringbone from the original apartment. Lighting throughout utilizes energy efficient T5 florescent lamping on dimmers with low voltage for accent lighting only. Kitchen appliances were selected for their energy efficiency. All the plumbing fittings and decorative hardware are stainless steel instead of plated. The bathroom sinks and master bath tub/shower were made locally from concrete. All the millwork was fabricated locally from either bamboo, or a core of formaldehyde free plywood. Existing single pane windows had a second insulating pane added, along with a UV coating for efficiency. Demolished cabinetry and fixtures were donated to local charities.

What green building material or product were you most pleased about?

I am most pleased with the T5 lighting. It is efficient and makes a dramatic design statement.

What had you less than enthused?

I was not completely happy with the paint. American Pride paints were used throughout. The flat paint was not a problem at all, but the deeper red color in the eggshell finish was difficult to get coverage, even with 3 plus coats.

Have any advice or resources for readers looking to green build or renovate their home?

There is a green material out there for every aesthetic.

Thanks, Pam!

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