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McCormick Place West

America's Biggest LEED-NC Certified Building

October 01, 2007 |

On November 7-9, when Chicago hosts the Greenbuild 2007 International Conference and Expo, an estimated 18,000 attendees will meet beneath the massive vegetated roof of the nation's largest LEED-NC certified building.

At nearly 2.35 million sf, McCormick Place West (MPW), the newest addition to the city's lakefront convention center, boasts 470,000 sf of exhibition space, 250,000 sf of meeting space, a 104,000-sf ballroom, and an 800-person covered rooftop terrace. Completed this past August—eight months early—the $850 million West Hall increases McCormick Place's total exhibition space to 2.6 million sf and its meeting space to 600,000 sf, making it the largest convention facility in the U.S.

The Building Team was tasked with making the facility blend seamlessly into the surrounding urban landscape, a formidable challenge considering the building's massive size and its adjacency to neighbors as diverse as other McCormick Place exhibit halls, low-rise brick buildings in the historic Motor Row district, and the largely residential Bronzeville neighborhood.

The final design was conceived by Atlanta's Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates and executed by Chicago-based Epstein (architect, engineer of record, and team leader of Mc4 West LLC, the design/build joint venture). The aesthetic is clean and modern, but with a twist: each of the four façades is unique, so the enormous West Hall addresses each of its neighbors with an appropriate scale, mass, and use of materials.

McCormick Place West garnered 28 LEED points without dinging the project's budget. “The bottom line is that there wasn't a huge cost associated with creating the largest LEED-NC green building in the United States,” says Carl Gergits, Epstein VP and project director for the MPW design team.

Key green features include the massive 152,000-sf vegetated roof, which connects to a 3,500-foot-long tunnel that channels rain water directly into Lake Michigan (see sidebar). Water consumption was trimmed by 75% for irrigation, 33% for bathroom fixtures. Daylighting (through low-e glazing) and high-efficiency light fixtures and HVAC systems (including demand-control ventilation, which was initially opposed by city officials) reduced energy consumption by 25%. Use of recycled materials scored several LEED points. “We blew away the LEED minimum, which is 10% recycled content,” says Gergits. “We had almost 16.5%.”

The 33,000 tons of steel and the reuse of concrete from site demolition for construction roadways and building slab underburden accounted for the majority of points, and were aided by other items with recycled content, including low-VOC furniture, finish materials, and carpeting.

“We made it green without doing anything painful or building in extraordinary systems,” says Gergits. “It was a surprisingly uneventful process.”


Giant Tunnel Recharges Lake Michigan

More than 150 feet below ground, stormwater runoff from McCormick Place West's vegetated roof is channeled directly into Lake Michigan via a 12-foot-diameter, 3,500-foot-long tunnel. “It's like a gutter and downspout on a gigantic scale,” says project director Carl Gergits, a VP at Epstein, Chicago.

The original stormwater plan for McCormick Place West called for construction of a large underground holding tank that would have collected and stored rain water, releasing it slowly into the city's sewer system. But a chemical analysis of the runoff from the convention center's existing South Hall revealed that the water quality was safe enough to send directly into the lake, with no treatment. The new $15 million tunnel can recharge the Great Lake with up to 60 million gallons a year with water clean enough to bypass the city's water treatment plants.
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