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Green Initiatives Take Flight at O'Hare International Airport

October 01, 2007 |

More than 77 million passengers traveled through Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in 2006, according to the Airports Council International, which once again ranked the airport as the second busiest in the world. As a result of its substantial—and increasing—air traffic, O'Hare is burdened with some of the nation's worst flight delays.

To meet the demand, a $6.6 billion O'Hare Modernization Program (OMP) is under way to rework and expand runways and to improve air traffic control, with sustainable elements incorporated into every project. Officials hope the many shades of green will stop air travelers from seeing red when using the airport.

In order to track and evaluate a project's sustainable elements, OMP developed a proprietary “green airplane” rating and evaluation system; projects can earn scores of one to five green airplanes, with five denoting the highest score. The two highest ranking projects—both receiving a score of four green airplanes—are the new North Air Traffic Control Tower and the Mt. Prospect Road and Guard Post 1 facility.

Designed by Los Angeles-based DMJM H&N and built by Chicago-based Walsh Construction, the new 255-foot-tall control tower will be a highly visible landmark when completed in 2008, so the architects focused on form as well as function. The slender tower, with a dramatic cantilever below the cab, will be clad in a pewter-colored zinc alloy with random cut-outs allowing interior light to filter through. The resulting twinkling effect resembles a night skyline but will not contribute to light pollution.

The tower complex also includes a base building with a 10,000-sf vegetated roof (a first for an FAA facility) that will be planted with native grasses; additional native grasses and grass swales will be used in the surrounding landscaping to eliminate the need for an irrigation system. Water reduction will also be achieved via low-flush toilets and low-flow faucets throughout the project.

Additional green goals established by OMP require the Building Team to target a 20% improvement in energy efficiency; use at least 5% recycled content; purchase FSC-certified wood (at least 50%); divert at least 50% of construction waste from landfills; and specify materials manufactured within 500 miles of the airport.

OMP's second four-green-airplane project is the Mt. Prospect Road and Guard Post 1 facility, which replaces an older complex that was razed to make way for O'Hare's reworked runways. OMP mandated that at least 50% of the former facility's demolition materials be recycled and reused.

A 6,400-sf vegetated roof will sit atop the new guard post canopy, collecting rainwater that will be reused for landscape irrigation and contribute to the facility's 50% reduction in overall water consumption. OMP also required the purchase of locally manufactured materials, fixtures, and finishes (within a 500-mile range) and the use of low-VOC sealants, paints, and coatings.

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