The Natural Resources Defense Council is the United States' most effective environmental action group. Working in the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi River states, the Midwest team addresses policy and investment issues pertaining to clean energy and clean water at the local, state, and regional levels.
In keeping with the NRDC's mission, the design of its new Midwest headquarters in Chicago's Civic Opera Building demonstrates the organisation's commitment to a cleaner, stronger environment. With these expectations in mind, the NRDC and the design team of Studio Gang decided to pursue the LEED Platinum rating as well as the Living Building Challenge, a rigorous certification program that exceeds the environmental standards of the LEED program. Pursuing these goals simultaneously presented numerous challenges such as incorporating reclaimed and recycled materials-of which not a single component could appear on the LBC's "RED list" of forbidden substances.
Felt-wrapped tectum panels and recycled glazing were incorporated into the new space, and pre-owned furniture elements were sourced and refurbished. Reclaimed wood trim mouldings were cleaned and assembled into painted paneling, creating a fluted surface that defines the space. The NRDC's appreciation of plants, and their ability to filter air and provide natural beauty, informed the design's rope wall and columns, which provide a structure for climbing plants to grow upon and, one day, envelop.
Spatially, the NRDC was eager to transition into an open floor plan, rather than continue to use private, individual offices. To ease this process, the design team held an interactive workshop with staff to explore and analyse the programme together as a group. The plan addresses acoustic issues associated with the new open office by situating louder spaces such as conference rooms and the open kitchen to the north side of the plan and around the core, with careful placement. As a result, the entire office is flooded with natural daylight, providing a vibrant and engaging workspace that supports the important environmental advocacy that takes place within it.