How Some of Chicago's Most Upscale Residences Fuse Sustainability with Luxury

By Lisa Skolnik | May 11, 2018 | Home & Real Estate

The best awards for luxury housing to earn today are green, as affluent renters and buyers insist on eco-friendly digs.


Sustainability meets ultimate luxury in the Helmut Jahn-designed 1000M (Image by Millerhare)

In the world of luxury residential real estate, building techniques and design features mimic fashion trends, changing ever more quickly as the materials and amenities du jour come into vogue. But Chicago’s current crop of luxury towers makes one thing clear: Green residences are here to stay.

And for good reason. Research shows that consumers will pay more for sustainable products, and that mindset extends to their residences. Nielsen got the ball rolling with its 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report, which put that number at 66 percent for all age groups and 73 percent for millennials. Among myriad studies since then, the National Association of Realtors’ 2017 Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report tells the residential green story best: The number of homebuyers who consider environmentally friendly features “very important” is on the rise, and approaching 40 percent for millennials and baby boomers.

It’s clear from the success of Fifield Realty Corp.’s recent buildings that luxury renters are equally enamored with sustainability. River North’s NEXT Apartments (347 W. Chestnut St., 312.883.5775), a striking, amenity-laden luxury high-rise completed in late 2016, recently became the first Chicago building to earn the Green Building Initiative’s Three Green Globes certification, equivalent to the better-known and always hard-won LEED Gold.

But the prolific developer isn’t stopping here; Green Globes certification is pending for its new Gold Coast luxury project, The Sinclair. “Today, most buildings are already efficient thanks to modern construction methods—they already meet the initial levels for green certifications like LEED and Green Globes. But that’s not enough for us,” says Fifield Companies project manager Givi Peradze. “Our residents are concerned with this, and we are too and our buildings are becoming increasingly more sustainable.”

So are Chicago’s current crop of luxury residential projects. Cases in point include the West Loop’s EMME (165 N. Desplaines St., 312.930.6605) from GREC Architects, which attained LEED Gold certification—a process that usually takes at least a year—an astonishing three months after opening, and two high-profile, design-driven projects still under construction from world-renowned starchitects Helmut Jahn (1000M in the historic Michigan Avenue Boulevard District, 1006 S. Michigan Ave., 312.313.7841) and Robert A.M. Stern (One Bennett Park in Streeterville, 451 E. Grand Ave., 312.832.2300).


EMME attained LEED Gold certification three months after opening (Photo by Tom Harris)

While all of these buildings incorporate state-of-the-art green features, from energy-saving technologies such as high-efficiency mechanical systems, appliances, fixtures and lighting to low-impact, zero-VOC renewable materials, and sport desirable amenities galore, they also set new benchmarks with innovative features that enhance residents’ lifestyles, improve their health, and foster and broaden their sense of community. At EMME, an 8,000-square-foot roof—”a space that’s traditionally underutilized,” notes GREC Architects principal Don Copper—has been ceded to The Roof Crop for on-site urban farming. The yields will be made available to residents and sold to local chefs, who will be part of a cooking demonstration program EMME is developing thanks to its state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen.

Stern’s One Bennett Park is aiming for LEED Gold certification with its high-performance design and construction and sustainable lifestyle features—right down to a buildingwide green cleaning program using only environmentally safe products. But three landscaped amenity decks, green roofs designed to reduce stormwater runoff and the urban heat island effect, and a 1.7-acre park adjacent to the building and open to the public significantly exceed LEED Gold requirements.

Jahn’s 1000M, set to break ground in early 2019, is incorporating a range of sustainable features to attain LEED certification. But its most intriguing one is a glossy skin of green-blue glass. “Thanks to building codes today, a lot of glass structures have silver or black coatings that limit transparency, which impacts daylighting, human comfort and more. But our design elements, such as deeper horizontal spandrels, are targeted to letting us achieve heightened transparency,” explains Jahn president Phil Castillo.

Given their mandate, will they attain LEED Gold? That remains to be seen, but as Castillo points out, “it’s not about the standard; it’s about doing what’s right and making a building that performs better for its residents. That’s true luxury.”

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