Sustainability in High-rises: Approaches Towards the Ecological Systems Framework at Chicago Loop

Jiayi Yi

Yi Highrise

The proposition that the high-rises and other high-density intensive buildings can be designed in response to the ecology has been viewed with great suspicion. The reasoning is that because of their enormous size, high-rises consume big amounts of energy and materials, which make similar discharges into the environment, and therefore considered unsustainable. Yet from the perspective of the entire life cycle of a building and its interrelation with human and environmental systems, the high-rises offer the greatest possibilities for the recycling of resources.


Moreover, the high-rises have positive justifications for their own existence, compared to the low-rise and decentralized suburban structure: in terms of land economy, the tall intensive buildings erected on a small footprint optimize the small land area. In addition to obtaining the maximum permitted buildable gross area, high-rises are ecologically progressive with greater opportunities for ecologically-responsive systems.


The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) defines green building as a way to “significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of buildings on the environment and on the building occupants” through “sustainable site planning, safeguarding water and water efficiency, energy efficiency, conservation of materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality." The Chicago Loop Area, comprised mostly of high-rises and home to the 108-story Willis Tower, at the same time accounts for an average of 40% of carbon emissions.­­ This high number of energy load is due to the buildings’ inefficient and outdated systems. 


The research project will focus on the ways high-rises need to be reconditioned and adapted to meet acceptable standards of the ecological design from the preliminary stages of design. I will study the types of building operational systems, and the selection of materials and energy sources. I will delve into the management of potential waste products, and the position of the service cores and how this affects the overall building configuration, as well as the building envelop. I will speak with leaders of the institutions and organizations that embrace the concept of sustainable design, including the U.S. Green Building Council and Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. I will formulate a list of best approaches with illustrations and examples to carry out this effort, in hope that high-rises would no longer be considered as high-energy and materials-intensive urban building types of the cities, and could be redressed by ecological design with energy-efficient systems. I will design an architectural project as a model towards the solution towards an ecological design.