Steam Heat

Steam Heat

When they open their dorm room windows, Loyola University sophomores living in the college’s new Center for Sustainable Urban Living won’t glimpse another brutalist high-rise; they’ll look out onto the massive greenhouse that contains the building’s atrium, lobby, and agricultural lab.

“This building is really a tool to teach sustainability and the ethics of conservation,” said Devon Patterson, one of the project’s lead designers with Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB). “At one point the greenhouse was a small part of the building, a demonstration. But it really became the heart of the building.”

Trusses 62 feet long curve over the space, breaking with the classic symmetrical arc of most farmland greenhouses. Instead, the dynamic shape shrugs wind and rain off to the building’s east, nourishing its natural ventilation and greywater recycling systems.

In the midst of a building boom, Chicago’s Loyola University asked SCB to add residence halls, classrooms, labs, and offices to a new chunk of its lakeshore campus in Rogers Park. To sort out the many programs, the architects took inspiration from Thomas Jefferson’s “academical village” at the University of Virginia. The Founding Father organized dormitories and classroom buildings around a central lawn, promoting interaction among an intellectual community.

Likewise SCB’s design folds an existing high-rise building on Sheridan Road into a plan that links its 10 stories to more freshman dorms on the site’s south end, with labs, classrooms, and a student lounge populating the buildings’ lower floors. The northern structure is now home to the Institute for Environmental Sustainability. Between the two taller structures is an atrium space that serves as the building’s “lawn” in the design team’s Jefferson analogy. It is a greenhouse and learning lab that will also supply food to the new dorm’s café.

The project boasts the largest geothermal heating and cooling system in the city. About 215,000 square feet spread across two acres, the predominantly low-rise complex is well-suited to geothermal; a higher density development wouldn’t be able to pull off the 15-year payback the system promises Loyola. LCD screens display temperatures in real time above several of the many pipes that send water through the building’s 91 geothermal wells, each 700 feet deep. As students and visitors traverse the lobby, they see the building’s pipework through several glass casings.

They also glimpse the base of a green wall meant to cover and shade the sophomore dorms that run along the lobby and greenhouse building’s east side. Thanks to tall ceilings, from which ring-shaped “modern chandeliers” hang, the street-level lounge also offers views of a green wall and an area for fruit trees next to the greenhouse space overhead.


New lab rooms outfitted with all-bamboo casings house Loyola’s Solutions to Environmental Problems program, which gathers students from diverse majors and asks them to solve an environmental problem on campus. Within sight of the new classrooms is the product of one of those classes: a small biodiesel refinery of sorts that converts campus fryer waste into enough fuel to offset 10 percent of the gas used by the university’s bus fleet. Homemade biodiesel will also run a boiler to heat the facility for a few days a year when the geothermal system is scaled back to allow underground heat to replenish.

Loyola’s biodiesel production is the only university-based program licensed by the federal government to sell its product. Filling only a fraction of its new home in the Institute for Environmental Sustainability’s new Clean Energy Lab, the biodiesel program will seek waste grease from other area universities in an attempt to increase output from 3,000 to 100,000 gallons per year.     As with the building’s geothermal pipework, SCB invites visitors to inspect the biodiesel program’s guts. Brightly colored pipes and large windows open toward Sheridan Road and onto the Institute for Environmental Sustainability’s atrium. A lattice reaches up past labs and walls colored red, orange, and green for wayfinding. A small vegetable garden will grow at its base, while hop plants climb three stories to the building’s skylight.

SCB will measure the building’s performance during its first month of operation. The firm is hoping that the facility’s energy use comes in at more than 70 percent below ASHRAE standards.