Awash in History, Pullman Soap Factory Heralds Clean Revolution

Awash in History, Pullman Soap Factory Heralds Clean Revolution

Magnificent 7: From left, moderator Heitman, panelists Miller, Stevens, Trieber, Nelkin-Frymark, Garg, and Wiercinski. 

Magnificent 7: From left, moderator Heitman, panelists Miller, Stevens, Trieber, Nelkin-Frymark, Garg, and Wiercinski. 

by JOHN GREGERSON | Dec 8, 2015

People Against Dirty!

Those defiant words fly from the powder blue flag outside the new factory on Chicago's gritty South Side. The facility has no soot, no grime, no fencing. Rather than a smokestack, a 230-ft-tall wind turbine rises beside the new $30-million Method Manufacturing plant, which opened last spring on a former EPA brownfield site. Today, the LEED Platinum, 150,000-sq-ft structure, which even boasts an indoor farm on its roof, is where eco-friendly soaps are made, bottled, warehoused, and distributed.

Yes, it's hard to imagine any property, anywhere, doing a more complete 180°.

Which explains why Method Manufacturing last week was the focus of a marquee BuiltWorlds event, the second in our ongoing Project Innovation Series. Moderated by Heitman Architects, the program featured a panel discussion among representatives of project teammates Summit Design + Build, SPACECO Inc., KJWW Engineering Consultants, and rooftop farmers Gotham Greens.

Gilded rage: Workers famously walked out on Pullman in 1894.

Gilded rage: Workers famously walked out on Pullman in 1894.

Not to be lost in all the competing storylines about the plant are the more generous, even symbolic gestures in its location. It now sits in the city's historic Pullman neighborhood, a resurgent but underserved enclave where railroad car pioneer George Pullman laid tracks for the region's industrial revolution 135 years ago, and where major U.S. labor history also was forged in the famed Pullman Strike of 1894. Today, history of a different sort is being made.

Owned by San Francisco-based Method Products and developed by Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, the project came with a top-down mandate that was clear to its design-build team: Construct a factory that would promote a “clean industrial revolution.”



Indeed, project architect of record Karl Heitman, himself a longtime proponent of sustainability, recalled that goal was set clearly at the outset of the job when he first met with Method's design architect, William McDonough, a world-renowned expert on green design and celebrated author of the seminal book, Cradle to Cradle. "We are at the dawn of manufacturing in the ecological century,” said McDonough, principal of his own Charlottesville VA-based design firm. The profound statement stuck with the like-minded Heitman, who made a point to jot it down. 

“Sixty percent of the energy Method consumes on an annual basis is generated by wind and solar,” with the balanced purchased off the grid with renewable credits, noted Heitman. While a full height window wall on the facility's southern elevation provides ample daylighting, colorful awnings promote shading and minimize solar heat gain. Even the farm atop Method contributes to energy performance, though to what degree has yet to be calculated, he added.

Green roof: The 75,000-sq-ft garden has many pluses.

Green roof: The 75,000-sq-ft garden has many pluses.

“Heat from the factory rises and warms the greenhouse.” Heitman said. “At other times, the farm provides an insulative layer to solar-generated heat bearing down on the facility,” he added. “Aesthetics,' Heitman continued, “follow function.” Hence, the decision to specify unvarnished precast concrete cladding in order to avoid vaporous finishes. Low VOC-emitting finishes blanket spaces within.

Panelist Adam Miller, president of lead contractor Summit Design + Build, told attendees that his firm's involvement with Method largely resulted from its participation in a separate Chicago office, warehouse and distribution project for Testa Produce Inc., a facility that incorporated wind turbines, hot water solar panels, photovoltaic solar panels, a green roof, and rainwater and daylighting harvesting. It also had earned LEED Platinum certification, which got the attention of Method co-founder Adam Lowry, an environmental scientist turned entrepreneur. "He called Testa and inquired who built it, “ Miller recounted. Once identified, “we were on board from site selection through construction,” Miller added.

Having grown up in Detroit, Lowry was keenly aware how strategic projects can help turn communities around. "(He) saw what Testa accomplished in an urban environment and wanted to take it further,” Miller explained. The owner “saw the potential for Method to serve as a model (for) employing decaying sites and structures to redefine urban renewal while revitalizing the rust belt,” he added.

Heitman's Treiber says Revit was powerful team tool.

Heitman's Treiber says Revit was powerful team tool.

In all, Method evaluated 150 candidate sites before selecting the 22-acre brownfield site in Pullman, in part due to to its close proximity to interstate highways, explained panelist Daniel C. Stevens, vice president with civil engineer SPACECO, which did site evaluations. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Pullman community also vigorously campaigned for the project, offering tax-increment financing (TIF) among the more persuasive incentives.

As built, the facility occupies just five acres, the intent being to dedicate remaining space to native land renewal, a garden, park-like spaces and ponds, so as to open the site to the community. The facility is even open to tourists. 

Method's iconic nature wasn't immediately apparent, but became increasingly so once the project team was assembled and went to work. Joining forces on our stage were Mark Treiber, Heitman's director of operations; Arun Garg and Scott Wiercinsk, two project executives with mechanical engineer KJWW Engineering Consultants; and Jennifer Nelkin Frymark, chief agricultural officer with Brooklyn NY-based Gotham Greens. Method is Gotham's first foray outside the Big Apple, but not the last, she said. 

Gotham's Nelkin Frymark says there is more to come.

Gotham's Nelkin Frymark says there is more to come.

Consolidating production, bottling, warehousing and distribution under a single roof significantly reduced Method's carbon footprint significantly, but shoehorning those functions along with farm, turbine and solar components wasn't without it challenges, panelists agreed.

To help, the team deployed Autodesk's Revit to render the entire facility, base building systems included, in 3D, an approach that not only identified clashes among engineered systems, “but served as powerful tool in terms of visualizing the finished facility,” said Treiber, who added that it afforded stakeholders across the U.S. virtual tours of the facility, promoting quick consensus, and, if needed, timely modifications.

As planning progressed, project team members occasionally locked horns with city code officials. Original plans called for recycling rainfall into manufactured product, a battle lost “because the codes simply aren't in place in Chicago,” Miller said. The rooftop farm likewise posed an issue. “For manufacturing facilities, codes readily accept large one-story structures,” Treiber noted, “but the city had never permitted a greenhouse before, let alone one atop a manufacturing facility.”

After designers agreed to introduce three stairwells between roof and grade levels, “the project was classified a one-story manufacturing facility with a green house,” Miller said.

Engineering + hydroponics

Also, the type of greenhouse Method would accommodate wasn't apparent until the project was under construction. Wiercinski told attendees that initial plans anticipated the roof would accommodate loads imposed upon the structure. Once Gotham Gardens signed on, it became clear that KJWW would need to incorporate a network of two-way, open-web joist girders working in tandem with the farm's trusses in order to support the structure,” Wiercinski elaborated.

The highly-automated farm is hydroponic, meaning it relies on mineral nutrients in water to cultivate plant life, and operates independently of the structure below.

“We generate our own electricity, water, gas and other services,” said Frymark, “who observed the concept of an urban farm allows us to grow food where people are and therefore reduce waste,” all while reducing an operation's carbon footprint. The farm also is “the most water-efficient method of growing vegetation, since every bit of water is irrigated, collected, filtered and re-used,” Frymark said.

Efficiency shaped nearly every aspect of the undertaking, said Arug, who joked, “We could have over-designed, but didn't.” The turbine, for instance, is recycled, having originally operated in Europe. To promote further savings, project team members also rejected a proposal to locate solar films on awnings due to a poor payback.

“The biggest challenge was budget,” Miller said. Time also was of the essence. The entire project was constructed in precisely a year. Method anticipates a 10-year return on its investment in the facility's sustainable components. 

Appropriately, the project has since been dubbed “The South Side Soap Box.” For one night this month, BuiltWorlds was pleased to allow project participants to take to theirs. Together, they wove a fascinating tale about the making of an instant landmark.

Check back in the weeks ahead for video highlights and presentations from this educational evening.

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