CHICAGO – The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and its Committee on the Environment (COTE®) have selected the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy’s state-of-the-art home, the Keller Center, as one of the ten top ten examples of sustainable architecture and ecological design projects that protect and enhance the environment for 2020. The prestigious COTE® Top Ten is the architecture industry’s best-known award program for sustainable design excellence.

The Keller Center celebrated its grand opening in May, 2019, after Harris Public Policy and a team led by Architect of Record Farr Associates and Collaborating Architect Woodhouse Tinucci Architects, reimagined and restored a Mid-Century masterpiece designed by Edward Durell Stone. The newly transformed four-story Keller Center is adaptable and resilient, while preserving the building’s history and unique architectural elements.

The Keller Center, seen from the northwest.

“Harris is thrilled that the Keller Center, and its world-class design team led by Farr Associates, has earned this distinction for sustainability excellence,” said Misho Ceko, COO, Harris Public Policy. “The Keller Center advances our school’s sustainability agenda, and reinforces our commitment to making an impact on the policy issues that are important to our students, faculty, staff, and broader community.”

The Keller Center has achieved LEED-NC Platinum and the rigorous Living Building Challenge™ Petal certification for Materials, Beauty, and Equity, both UChicago firsts, making it one of the most sustainable buildings in the City of Chicago and in higher education nationally.

“We’re extremely proud that the Keller Center has been recognized by AIA and its Committee on the Environment in 2020,” said Doug Farr, founder and president, Farr Associates. “Working closely with Harris and UChicago leadership, we wanted from the outset of the project to set the standard for sustainable design on the campus and among policy schools around the globe.  It’s gratifying that Keller has received this honor and to see Harris continue to grow and thrive.”

The Keller Center incorporates several world-class sustainable design practices, including: ethical redevelopment and reclaimed materials; rainwater capture; solar energy capture; active design and universal design; bird-friendly glass; and circadian lighting.

The Keller Center's rainwater capture, to highlight one example of a best practice cited by the COTE®, uses rain rather than potable water to flush the building’s toilets. A 15,000-gallon cistern captures and stores rainwater for reuse, diverting more than 525,000 gallons of rainwater annually from Chicago’s overburdened combined storm and sanitary sewer system, mitigating impact by reducing flow rates and flooding.

A photo of a group of people making a toast.
Misho Ceko and others at the grand opening of the Keller Center, May 3, 2019.

The project is a deep-energy retrofit, having reduced energy use by 47% compared to the national average for this type of building. Additionally, the Keller Center’s solar energy system produces up to 152,055 kWh of carbon-free electricity each year – enough energy to power 11% of the building’s annual energy use, with additional roof area to expand to meet 24% of annual energy use.

The Forum at the Keller Center

New curtain walls on the perimeter of the Keller Center incorporate a special UV reflective coating making the Keller Center an early adopter of “bird-friendly” building design. The coating incorporates a design that mimics a spiderweb, causing birds to avoid – and therefore not collide with – the windows. 

Nearly a third of the site area is now landscaped, up from just 17% before the building’s update. Almost half of all workstations have a direct view of the outdoors and most of the interior is daylit. Finally, a central grand stair encourages physical activity and sparks conversations that lead to policy innovations—the engine that moves Harris forward.

About Farr Associates

Farr Associates is recognized nationally for their emphasis on sustainability and collaborative approach to design.

About the Design Team

Collaborating Architect/Interior Designer: Woodhouse Tinucci Architects

Daylighting: Seventhwave

Engineer Civil: Terra Engineering,Ltd.

Engineer-MEP: dbHMS Engineering

Engineer-Structural: Stearn JoglekarLtd.

General Contractor: Mortenson Construction

Landscape Architect: Site Design Group,Ltd.

LBC Red List Consultant: WSP

Lighting Designer: Anne Kustner Lighting Design, Ltd

Sustainability Consultant: AP Monarch,LLC.