The Enormous Project Would Cost $350 Million and Lower Base Energy Consumption by 80 Percent
|A $350 million retrofit at the Sears Tower in Chicago is adding solar panels and wind turbines to the 110-story building.|
Nearly 40 years after its construction, Chicago’s Sears Tower -- the world’s third tallest building -- is embarking on what could be its greatest adventure: a $350 million, top-to-bottom environmental retrofit
that would add wind turbines, solar panels and roof gardens to its iconic profile and trim its electricity use to a fraction of current consumption.
The project was announced Wednesday by American Landmark Properties
, the property group that owns the 110-story building in partnership with New York-based investors Joseph Chetrit and Joseph Moinian. It is the second headline-grabbing retrofit of a major U.S. tower this year, following an energy efficiency upgrade at the Empire State Building
announced in April.
John M. Huston, who co-heads American Landmark Properties with Yisroel Gluck, said the retrofit would help maintain the building’s competitive edge long into the future, although the decision was also personal.
“We baby boomers have done a lot of things to the planet that are not very admirable. We need to correct some of those things,” he said. “When I leave this building, I want it to be in better shape than when I arrived five years ago.”
Project officials are calling the retrofit the most significant of its kind ever attempted at an existing building. All of the building’s 16,000 windows are being replaced (the Empire State Building has less than half that many), which alone could save up to 60 percent of heating energy. Energy-efficient mechanical and lighting systems are being installed, and the building’s 104 elevators and 15 escalators, along with its plumbing systems, are being modernized.
Also planned is on-site renewable energy. Solar hot water panels would adorn the 90th-story roof, which is already carpeted with an experimental garden, and several varieties of roof-mounted wind turbines will be tested for their performance at those altitudes.
The retrofit was designed by Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
In all, the building’s base energy consumption would be reduced by a whopping 80 percent, saving enough electricity to power a Chicago neighborhood of 2,500 homes for a year. Water conservation is projected at 24 million gallons annually, or as much water as flows over the American side of Niagara Falls every two-and-a-half minutes.
Those achievements, along with green cleaning, recycling and bike-sharing programs already in place, should be enough to earn LEED Platinum, the highest sustainability designation of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system, Huston said.
The bulk of the work will begin next spring and is expected to complete in roughly five years. The project will create almost 4,000 jobs, according to project officials.
The cost of the retrofit, about three times what AIG’s 66-story headquarters in Manhattan is being sold for, is due mostly to the building’s cavernous size. It has 3.8 million square feet of rentable space, which makes it about 30 percent larger than the Empire State Building.
According to Huston, ownership will make a “significant” equity investment in the project, and it is pursuing government and nonprofit funding. The retrofit cost does not include a proposed hotel adjacent to Sears Tower that was recently announced.
“It’s a lot of money, and we are pursuing a lot of different financing alternatives,” Huston said.
All of the operational cost savings generated by the project will flow directly to tenants, he added.
Yet, the impact of the project, like the one at the Empire State Building, will reach far beyond the walls of the building, those involved with the retrofit say.
A Sustainable Technology Learning Center is planned to educate the more than 1 million visitors to Sears Tower each year on ways to save energy and money. Additionally, the tower hosts about 1,000 people annually who come from all over the world to learn how to design, build and operate a building of that size. Now, they will also learn how to improve the energy efficiency and sustainability of existing commercial towers, Huston said.
According to Gordon Gill, partner of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture: “Sustainable architecture in new buildings is important but not enough to address the climate and energy crises facing our world. We have to apply what we’ve learned to our existing stock of commercial buildings -- especially iconic structures such as Sears Tower, which we hope will inspire similar initiatives around the globe.”