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Twirling Rotini and Green Indulgences in a River North parking garage.





 -by Lynn Becker

[February 5, 2010] - Can sustainability distract from a multitude of sins?



Greenway Self Park, Chicago, Cubellis and HOK
In the old days you could buy an indulgence for your sins. Not much has changed. Today the accepted currency for indulgences is still green - just not as in cash, but as in sustainability. Green is to architecture as "low-fat" is to junk food, a label too often used to divert attention away from the usual trespasses.

You can't get much greener than the new parking garage at Kinzie and Clark. The Greenway Self Park proclaims its virtue in its very name. The design actually includes "educational plaques" scattered through the garage to enlighten its users on "how to live green." Developer Albert Friedman is reported to be seeking to patent the garage's design as a prototype for missionary work in other locales. The garage has its own pages on Facebook (a quiet get-away, just three fans), and Twitter, where it has nearly 700 followers while following nearly 2,000. It may be watching you this very minute, so stand straight and fly right.

Greenway Self Park site,Chicago
The Greenway, a joint project between Cubellis and HOK, was constructed of pre-cast concrete elements, allowing it to rise quickly. As part of the goal of attaining LEED certification, all of the materials used in the construction were produced within a 500-mile radius of the site.
Greenway Self Park, Chicago
Greenway Self Park, Chicago, during construction
Greenway Self Park, Chicago
At its essence, the Greenway is an absolutely unexceptional, 11-story hulk, with a very polished veneer of green-tinted channel glass. The garage brags about the openings between panels allowing for natural ventilation, "eliminating the need for an energy-consuming ventilation system." Which is a bit of a ruse, because the primary purpose of the channel glass is to make the structure less God-awful. Gaps or no gaps, they probably admit less air than the cheapest iteration of a garage like this, which are left largely without exterior walls.

Greenway Self Park, Chicago, Cubellis and HOKThere's a green roof with water cisterns to capture runoff, but that green roof is also designed to serve as a landscape recreation deck for the residents of still another residential tower - 49 stories- that Friedman hopes to erect just to the north.

The most interesting aspect of the Greenway, both functionally and visually, is found at the corner, where a series of six large wind turbines are stacked one above the other. They're designed by the Chicago firm Aerotecture, which also did the turbine's for Helmut Jahn's Mercy Lakefront SRO on Clybourn (CORRECTION: the turbines are actually from Helix Wind. Read the story on why Aerotek didn't participate here.) According to GreenBeanChicago.com, they're engineered to operate no matter the wind direction, in speeds as low as one to two MPH, to howling, extreme conditions, producing 10,000 to 15,000 kWh of power annually.
Aerotecture wind turbine, Greenway Self Park, ChicagoThe sculptural form of the turbines invite all sort of poetic comparisons, from the aforementioned rotini, to writhing worms or, reflecting the garage's "double-helix" ramp system to speed parkers in and out, interlocking strands of DNA. It will be interesting to see them in motion.

When an article in Concrete in Products describes the Greenway as "designed not to look like a parking garage at all, the building is meant to blend into its relatively upscale surroundings," you wonder where you can get your hands on the kind of stuff they're smoking. For all its proclaimed morality, the Greenway Self Park is, in the final analysis, still another squat 285,000 square-foot behemoth pumping up the density of River North, turning more streets into sheer canyons and squeezing out the charm and human scale that made River North attractive in the first place.

And while it may earn its indulgences through fervent good works, you still have to ask: how green can a building be when its reason for being is as a magnet to attract still more drivers burning up still more energy to bypass mass transit and minimize their time as a pedestrians in a city made for walking?

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© 2010 Lynn Becker All rights reserved.

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