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Skidmore design’s 30-story window helps skyscraper ‘breathe’

Artist rendering GreenlGroup Suzhou Center Wujiang China.  Courtesy Skidmore Owings   Merrill LLP

Artist rendering of the Greenland Group Suzhou Center in Wujiang, China. Courtesy Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

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Updated: February 19, 2012 8:20AM



Chicago architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP has designed a building with a lung. You might prefer to call it a 30-story operable window, or a sky atrium.

Regardless, Skidmore Design Director Ross Wimer said it is a new approach to ventilation and energy conservation in high-rise buildings. Wimer said the innovation is in the scale; the technique of using open air shafts and natural light goes back to such Chicago landmarks as the Rookery and the Santa Fe Building, works of Daniel Burnham.

The “lung” is planned for a 75-story building Skidmore is designing for Wujiang, China. Called the Greenland Group Suzhou Center, it essentially splits in two on its higher levels, then reunites as one structure near the top. The design creates a slice through the building that Wimer said will help it breathe. The space will be computer-controlled to open in the warm weather, providing a deep penetration for daylight and a fresh air source. Skidmore said the building should save 60 percent on energy use compared with a conventional high-rise.

Wimer said the design is suited for the building’s mix of uses. On the widest floors on the lower levels are offices, while a hotel and residences will be on the higher floors, where the lung provides additional views that justify premium prices.

The building, about 50 feet taller than the John Hancock Center, would be the sixth project Skidmore has handled for Greenland Group, a private firm that enjoys favor from the government. China’s central planners are encouraging growth in Wujiang, a city of about 800,000 near Shanghai.

Wimer said ground for the site alongside Taihu Lake already has been broken. In the Chinese system, that means the order has gone to Skidmore to start on the detailed work for the building. Wimer said the design should be finished in less than a year, at which time construction can start in earnest.

Also per the Chinese custom, Skidmore has not been given a budget to hit. No wonder U.S. architects vie to go over there.

Any chance Skidmore will apply some supertall razzle-dazzle to the skyline of its hometown one of these days? “That’s my dream,” Wimer said. “These 14-hour flights to China are pretty exhausting.”

TECH TRYOUT: Backers of a new incubator for technology companies is Chicago are scheduled Wednesday to announce plans to put it in a 50,000-square-foot building at 222 W. Hubbard, just north of the Merchandise Mart. Matt Moog, founder of the consumer-product review site Viewpoints.com, is backing the venture with J.B. Pritzker and others.

BUCK’S TWO CENTS: Developer John Buck said some at his namesake company have accused him of being “too conservative” in the current real estate climate. It’s a preposterous thing to say to the guy who’s probably Chicago’s most successful current developer of office buildings, but it indicates the disciplined approach that can vex gung-ho colleagues. Perhaps the difference of opinion is behind some high-profile departures from his firm.

Despite the more positive readings about the office market that have come from other sources, Buck said he remains unconvinced. He said that while he’s raising cash for his fourth investment fund, he sees few opportunities to put it to work immediately. “I don’t see any real turnaround in unemployment and job creation,” Buck said.

I’ve written about his investment in the six-story 200 N. Michigan, which could be razed for a high-rise that includes an expansion of the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago. Buck said it’s a long-term deal for him, as several tenants hold leases that don’t expire for years. It would thus be costly to buy them out.

CALENDAR NOTES: Author Edward Wolner discusses his new book about architect Henry Ives Cobb, whose designs include the Newberry Library and the Chicago History Museum, Thursday at a Landmarks Illinois program. It starts at 12:15 p.m. at the Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph.

This year’s Illinois Real Estate Journal forecast breakfast boasts Sam Zell and Debra Cafaro, chairman of health facilities landlord Ventas Inc., having a “fireside chat” about investment opportunities for 2012. It’s Tuesday at the Marriott Chicago Downtown, 540 N. Michigan, and details are at rejournals.com.

DOING THE DEALS: A Skokie investment firm, EPN GP LLC, said it booked a more than 60 percent gain, or more than $200 million, on the sale of 47 shopping centers in the U.S. that it acquired just five months ago. Alex Berman, co-founder of EPN and a former executive with General Growth Properties, said his firm bought an Australian trust that held the properties and flipped them to a venture of Blackstone Real Estate Partners and DDR Corp. The sale includes one site in the Chicago area, Woodfield Village Green in Schaumburg. … UGL Ltd. represented TK Simplex in the $1.75 million sale of its building at 2525 Gardner in Broadview. The 104,000-square-foot building sold to JNT Beta LLC.



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