By maintaining this historic structure, we are aiding in the preservation of the cultural and historical heritage of Chicago and, more importantly, we are contributing to a world-wide mission for energy conservation and waste reduction. The building at 3636 South Iron Street recalls a time when Chicago was an industrial powerhouse - “the hog butcher to the world.” Manufacturing was housed in multi-story environments and employees walked to work from the nearby neighborhoods. Materials were abundant and cheap, fed by the cutting down of entire forests in the north. Labor was also cheap, allowing large structures, like this one, to be built with the brawn necessary to last centuries rather than decades.
The building is a classic: heavy timber, post-and-beam construction with load-bearing exterior masonry walls that measure 2’-0” thick at the lower levels. These same masonry walls act as 6-hour firewalls, dividing the building into 3 distinct zones. Openings in the firewalls are protected by huge fusible link, counter-weight fire doors that work as well now as they did nearly a century ago. The posts and beams were cut from the hearts of hemlocks, the likes of which are no longer available today. After nearly a century, the deflection on the floor between these posts (16’-0” on center) is less than an inch. The floors themselves are comprised of 2x6 hardwood, laid side by side to form a 5” thick sub-floor beneath a finished floor of 3/4” thick, tongue-and-groove maple that has been restored to its original glory. Even the steel bolts and gusset plates that cradle the posts and beams have been restored and painted. The building’s skeleton was crafted to hold an impressive 250 pounds per square foot of load, allowing a data center to be added to the roof as part of the future of GEOLOFTS.
Due to the emphasis on fire safety after the Great Chicago Fire two decades earlier, the building boasts a complete sprinkler system that works as well as it did in 1915. The sprinkler system has been well-maintained thanks to the presence of the Sprinkler Fitters Apprentice School (www.sprinklerfitters669.org), a former fifth floor tenant until 1996. The only change to the sprinkler system was the abandonment of the two large, steel storage tanks, located inside the elevator penthouse. The tanks and the attached 8” piping will find a new use as a rain water/grey water irrigation system that will feed rooftop gardens and landscaping, and refill the cistern.
The quarter-inch steel plate, used as surface protection on the hardwood floors in the passageways throughout the warehouse, has been salvaged and will be resurfaced with a nonskid coating provided by JFB Hart Coatings, which contains zero VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds). Virtually all wood products (2x4 framing, plywood, wooden bathroom partitions) have been salvaged and reused during the renovation. All insulation has been reused as sound-deadening material. in new partition walls. Virtually all metal piping from demolition will be reused to form bike racks and handrails. Any metal deemed unusable has been donated to a local scrap collector who sells to a local metal recycler (ACME Scrap). Fiberglass pipe insulation has been saved to reuse on the new geothermal piping installation. During the demolishing process, a pallet of old, dark light fixtures was discovered...it turns out that they were unique porcelain warehouse lighting fixtures in place since the building's completion. These special artifacts have been cleaned up and returned to service with new CFL bulbs. All of the old copper wiring and antique lead-covered telephone wiring has been recycled. An ancient fireproof walk-in safe has been given new life as fireproof storage for important files and artwork. A safe specialist was commissioned to reset the combinations.
Through the innovative use of exterior grade metal paneling, we have been able to reuse all of the gypsum drywall that would have been thrown in a landfill. The drywall has been removed and reused as a two-layer fire separation behind the metal paneling, eliminating the need for a fine surface finish, which in turn, eliminates the dust created by normal drywall taping and sanding and the painting and repainting required on a drywall surface.
In the front office area, located in Section 1A (8,000 sq. ft.) of the first floor, all of the furniture-quality oak cladding enclosing the hemlock posts and beams has been preserved, repaired, and refinished to its original glory.
In short, the original structure of GEOLOFTS could never be duplicated. These materials are simply not available and labor is far too expensive to build a building of this size and shape. Unless we adapt buildings like GEOLOFTS to new and innovative uses, we condemn ourselves to demolishing similar buildings built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even if we replace demolished structures with highly efficient buildings using the latest construction techniques, it would cost one-third of a century’s worth of energy savings to make up for the energy stored by the materials and labor used to construct the original.
This is not a petition to preserve all old buildings. Many of these old buildings have been constructed poorly with inadequate materials and methods, for which the only practical solution may be demolition. However, many of them are gems that can never be imitated or replaced. Before we rush to demolish and rebuild with the latest technology, we should examine the possibility of adapting and reusing existing building stock with an appreciation for the value of already invested energy and an eye towards the potential value of energy saved.
We believe that the right approach for our future is to preserve existing building stock, whenever practical, and adapt the interior space and systems to reflect current proven energy-saving technology and environmental engineering with quality construction methods and materials. The energy stored in the core and shell of GEOLOFTS will exist indefinitely and will be ready for another retrofit to meet the future needs of the 22nd or even the 23rd century.