Beyond Green Award Winner

Center for Neighborhood Technology

General Information

Exterior photo of the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) on North Avenue

Front entry of the CNT on North Avenue

  • Building Name: Center for Neighborhood Technology
  • Building Location:
    • City: Chicago
    • State: Illinois
    • Country: USA
  • Project Size (ft², m²): 13,800 square feet
  • Building Type(s): Institutional
  • Project Type: Renovation
  • Delivery Method: Building contractor working with Project Team consisting of LEED® Accredited Professional and Engineer, Architect, Center for Neighborhood Technology
  • Total Building Costs: $993,600 +/-
    • Cost/ft²: $72 per square foot
  • Owner: Center for Neighborhood Technology
  • Building Architect/Project Team: Jonathan Boyer, AIA, Farr Associates Architecture and Urban Design
  • Project Contact Person: Elizabeth Lindau, Marketing Coordinator


The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) has a unique mission: to invent and implement new tools and methods that create livable urban communities for everyone. For more than 20 years, CNT has been working at the cutting edge of sustainable development, long before the term was coined. In cooperation with its partners, CNT invents programs and strategies that simultaneously achieve environmental goals and build strong communities. The CNT promotes livable, sustainable communities where the undervalued resources and inherent advantages of the urban environment, both built and natural, are captured to benefit everyone–individuals, communities and regions. Such programs include I-GO Car-Sharing, the Location Efficient Mortgage, and the Community Energy Cooperative.

Place, the built and natural environments that shape and sustain our lives, has always been an important idea for CNT for over 25 years, and it is in the context of urban places that CNT understands assets. Even the most outwardly depressed places have real assets, both tangible and intangible–density, good public transit, existing infrastructure, strong community institutions, and the people who live and work there. Assets like these are often improperly valued; in low- and moderate-income communities this is especially true, and hidden and/or undervalued assets abound. Transforming these common assets, CNT believes is the key to solving many of the problems facing regions today. CNT has three interrelated strategies for this transformation:

  • Analyzing, framing, and delivering information about the underlying network of systems, particularly economic, that undervalue assets;
  • Promoting public policies that build and enhance assets; and
  • Creating new ways to capture the value of assets.
Photo of the native garden on the side of the new Center for Neighborhood Technology.

The native garden provides shading and cooling.

In 1987, the Center for Neighborhood Technology decided to move from a leased space in downtown Chicago to a more affordable location in Wicker Park, a transit-friendly neighborhood. Wicker Park has emerged from an artist's haven into one of the most desirable places to live in Chicago. With its heart at Damen and Milwaukee Avenues, Wicker Park is bound by North and Division, and Ashland and Western Avenues. The community is comprised of a blend of tree-lined streets, apartments, and rejuvenated houses and flats. There are a large variety of homes, from stately Victorians to modern low-rise buildings. It offers a mix of small businesses, chic boutiques, galleries, and trendy restaurants. The result is a vibrant, dynamic destination for visitors and residents alike. With a bohemian and European heritage, Wicker Park is one of the city's most desirable destinations for culture and entertainment. Wicker Park maintains an emphasis on performance art, music and theater. It also has many independent art galleries—particularly in the Flat Iron Building–and sculptors, painters, and mixed-media artists. For commuters (many of whom do not need a car), the CTA's Blue Line and the train are only a few blocks away giving them 10-minute access to the Loop, as well as easy access to O'Hare International Airport and the suburbs.

The building was originally selected for the location and other desirable features including the open space next to it, the available parking, and the many amenities within walking distance for the employees. An internal survey also determined that the building was at the nexus of travel patterns of the majority of employees.

CNT eventually purchased the 13,800 square-foot abandoned light industrial building that dates back to the 1920s when it originally served as a textile factory. In 2000, the organization was running out of space, and was faced with a difficult decision. They could sell the building at a profit–but the property would almost certainly be bought by a developer and turned into high-end condos, further fueling the neighborhood's regentrification. Or they could stay and expand into the first floor. CNT not only chose to stay and expand, but to renovate in a manner that would earn it a LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The renovation of an existing historic building also gave CNT an opportunity to "practice what it preaches." CNT's green building project sought to put in place the standard green building elements that LEED outlines, however the outcomes were unique in that their rehab of a former industrial building was completed in a relatively inexpensive manner–even while incorporating demonstration technologies like a new high-efficiency ventilation system and cooling system; and also resulted in a warm and friendly space. The renovation project was completed in October 2003 for $72/sf when the average cost for a new building in Chicago at the time was $160/sf.

Overall Project Goal/Philosophy

Photo of CNT conference room

Natural daylight is optimized in the large conference room.

CNT planned the green renovation as a model template and educational program to demonstrate to industry specialists, building professionals, and the general public that green renovation can be achieved, economically, efficiently, and without compromising aesthetics. Rather than pursuing state-of-the-art techniques and materials (which are often costly), CNT chose to integrate "state-of-the-shelf" technologies to affordably reduce the building's energy costs and to demonstrate to the community that simple choices can have substantial energy savings.

A significant goal of the project was to share the lessons and wisdom gained through this process. So CNT is planning an educational outreach campaign specifically targeted to those in the building industry most likely to influence supply and demand for sustainable building materials–from contractors and developers, to owners and architects–CNT hopes to increase awareness of the procedures, challenges, and benefits of greening an existing structure.

CNT used a two-prong approach to achieve a green building. First, through an integrated process, the project team conducted a great amount of research and planning–required for a green renovation on a budget of an existing structure. Goals were established through a "planning team" process consisting of the architect, contractor, LEED® accredited professional, Sharon Feigon the building manager, the staff of the CNT, and an engineer. The team developed the goals and desired outcomes for the project through a series of meetings, charrettes, and questionnaires. The team thought holistically about the building solution up front as they wanted the final design to reflect the environmental values of the organization. The architect encouraged experimentation with materials, colors, and textures as a way to meet design goals. Among the many goals was the desire to create an open, fun, and community-like atmosphere to encourage creative thinking, access to the public, and interaction among the staff.

Photo of CNT garder outdoor space

Employees enjoy the garden and shading in summer.

Secure/Safe Goal

To create a safe, open environment in the context of a neighborhood in the process of regentrifying itself, but still allow for natural lighting into key spaces.

Sustainable Goal

To create a green renovation of an existing building and achieve a LEED® Platinum rating on a limited budget by addressing the following: site issues, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, indoor environmental air quality, materials and construction strategies with reduce, reuse, and recycle in mind, and innovation and design process.

Functional Goal

To create an open space that encouraged interaction among the staff, accommodated a variety of work schedules and habits, and maximized access to the community. The main entrance to CNT was also intended to be on North Avenue in order for staff to walk from the parking lot directly to North Avenue. CNT owns a 13 foot right-of-way from the lot to North Avenue.

Accessible Goal

To design an atmosphere and spaces that provided access to the general public, staff, etc. while respecting the historic character of the structure.

Aesthetic Goal

To create a fun atmosphere that encourages creativity and innovation, which are in alignment with the company's mission, through the careful selection of materials and colors.

Cost-Effective Goal

To make materials, systems, and design choices that would meet the limited budget by integrating "state-of-the-shelf" technologies to affordably reduce the building's energy costs and demonstrate to the community that simple choices can have substantial energy savings. The costs for the renovation were analyzed and reviewed over the short- and long-term. To utilize the equity they already had built into the property so they wouldn't have to take out large loans to undertake and complete the renovations. The equity served as the basis for the budget.

Historic Preservation Goal

To renovate and utilize an existing historic structure without significantly altering its footprint. To highlight, integrate, and juxtapose the old and historic pieces of the building with the new for a visually rich experience.

Productive Goal

To create a fun, innovative, creative, and flexible environment in which employees and visitors would thrive and be inspired. To optimize daylighting in order to maximize productivity and morale.

Other Significant Aspects of the Project



Overview of Process

An integrated and informed team worked closely together throughout all the phases of the project. There were many instances where contractors and sub-contractors were educated along the way about the goals of the project and their processes supervised more closely or modified in order to meet the LEED® requirements and the unique aspects of renovating an older building. The whole team worked to achieve the goals of the project in the context of a "Mission Statement."

Photo of CNT work space

Work spaces receive daylight along the building's perimeter but also contribute to the daylight in the interior since office partitions are low.

Pre-Design/Planning Activities

Development of a set of project goals and Mission Statement intended to facilitate interaction among staff and create a green renovation that would improve productivity among staff and add to the quality of life among staff and community. Careful research, review, and analysis of materials and systems choices. Regular meetings and communications with all parties to ensure understanding of goals, issues, and implementation of the design.

Design Activities

The project team worked very closely with contractors and subcontractors during the design phase to ensure that the design intent would be implemented and understood by educating them on the standards and process that they would need to follow. An analysis of the various design options and their costs over the short- and long-term was conducted.

Construction Activities

There were many activities included before and during the construction phase that were intended to engage and educate the appropriate and most qualified contractors/subcontractors for the job. Six contractors were interviewed, and they were required to be local. A GMC was selected with a guaranteed maximum price contract which meant they had to make a design that fit the budget. Initially, subs and contracts didn't know LEED® requirements intimately, so more administrative time was spent with those groups to educate them and make sure they fully understood their role in the process.

The building permit took a long time due to a transition of computer systems in the city. However, through Mayor Daley, the city is sympathetic and educated about sustainability, so the permit process was relatively easy with the exception of a misunderstanding about the ice storage tanks. The CNT ended up spending more money to bury the ice storage tanks, even though they were storing food grade materials, because the staff in permits was unknowledgeable and somewhat fearful about future toxic waste in the tanks should a different owner take over the property.

An intern was hired to research all local paint suppliers that carried low VOC paints. The information was included as part of the specification so that the paint contractor would fully understand their options and learn how to anticipate supply issues. Architect Jonathan Boyer worked closely with the woodworker, including making a few trips to Minnesota where he is based to make simple modifications to his shop. The woodworker didn't have the set up to craft the millwork according to LEED® standards such as the use of non-toxic glues and recycled or natural materials. Wheat board with melamine in it was chosen for the woodwork. Also, initially a lighting consultant was selected but discovered to be too expensive. So the architect worked directly with a lighting manufacturer's representative to redesign and solve lighting issues. They chose the most economic layout–a cloud system. The electrical was roughed in but the lighting needed to be done on site. The team valued this process as they documented and discovered empirical evidence on site that aided in the resolution of reflectivity and acoustics issues. Also the demolition contractor needed to be educated about proper sorting and the most efficient path and number of trips to a local recycling center.

Operations/Maintenance Activities

The engineer helped to set up all the warranties and manuals and brought representatives in from the various building systems and materials companies to explain how to operate equipment and even perform simple tasks like repainting a spot so as not to undermine the LEED® intent. There has been ongoing training of the maintenance person in the building who has to learn the nuances of the systems in order to run the building most efficiently.

Post-Occupancy Evaluation Activities

There are a variety of educational signs throughout the building that are intended to remind employees of their role in the continued success of the project as well as educate the community and other building users of the various programs in place within the CNT. Energy and systems analyses are conducted regularly. Employees receive regular communications regarding the state of the air quality and/or system issues so they can actively participate in the building's operations to achieve optimal air quality, etc. There is a "green office committee" on staff that is charged with paying attention to the building systems and other air quality issues. They utilize an Intranet to inform or alert employees of systems changes or problems.

Information and Tools

  • ASHRAE-based spreadsheets for load calculations, ductwork sizing, and ADPI calculations
  • Lumen Micro for lighting design
  • Energy Simulation Software used: VisualDOE 3.1

Products and Systems


  • Thermal ice storage system lowers cooling costs
  • Conventional plumbing with low flow fixtures (composting toilets were cost-prohibitive and against code)
  • Light sensors placed only in bathrooms where most effective. In common areas, three bulb lights were wired so one, two, or three bulbs can be used as needed
  • Reflective ENERGY STAR rooftop covering and roof insulation with an average R-3, fiberglass batts + 2 inches of rigid board insulation
  • High efficiency water heater with 90% sealed combustion heater
  • High efficiency lights with t-8 electronic ballasts
  • Kitchen appliances, as well as copiers, printers, and computers all have high ENERGY STAR® ratings for efficient performance.

Architectural finishes

  • Carpeting is manufacturer seconds that would have gone to a landfill. Creative use of remnants created design feature; tiling allows only worn areas to be replaced which contributes to a significant cost savings over time. The average cost for new carpeting was estimated at $20/square yard. The seconds saved $15-17/ square yard.
  • Ceiling not covered entirely with acoustical tile, reducing material cost and creating a more visually appealing space
  • Open floor plan and low partitions allow for more sharing of light resources

Indigenous planting in the garden is cost-effective since the plants were more affordable and require no watering.


  • Indigenous plants are more affordable and don't require watering
  • Recycled brick
  • Permeable green parking lot
  • Native garden includes a storm water rain garden and rain barrels for capturing roof runoff which is rerouted to flow into garden swale instead of the gutter
  • Open space was left as is
  • Reduction of light pollution achieved by shielding outside lights
  • Provided designated parking for hybrid cars, I-Go car-share cars, and carpooling (12% of building occupants provided with preferred carpool parking)


  • Recycled file cabinets, chairs, and marble tables (from bathroom stalls)
  • Simple and repetitive office fixtures minimized construction waste
  • Wheatboard, cork millwork for office furniture

Energy Issues

Energy Use Description

Expected Electricity UseEnergy Use (kWh/yr)Electric Costs ($/yr)

Expected Gas UseEnergy Use (therms/yr)Gas Costs ($/yr)

Indoor Environment

Indoor environment approach

The goal of the project was to create a healthy indoor environment through the use of air and daylight. Ninety percent of the spaces have access to daylight and views. It is a non-smoking building with CO2 monitoring. The ductwork was sealed during construction to control contaminants. The printing and copying machines are segregated from the rest of the building. Low and no-VOC paints, adhesives, finishes, and carpeting were utilized. The CNT maximized the controllability of systems through zones and switches. Permanent monitoring of the HVAC system and ventilation is in place. An indoor garden is in place within the CNT. Air quality testing determined acceptable levels of indoor air quality. Insulated window shades with R-value of 0.67 contribute to $143 energy savings annually. High efficiency cooling was provided for the server room with waste heat going to the greenhouse. Hybrid ventilation was provided through the use of operable windows.

Project Results

Lessons Learned

By involving all parties early on in the process, thoroughly researching alternatives, and striving to use simple solutions that provide the biggest "bang for the buck," CNT was able to complete a LEED® Platinum level renovation on a conventional construction budget. CNT is proud to be able to demonstrate to the community that a green renovation, which reduces both energy consumption and operating costs, is possible to achieve affordably and without compromising aesthetics or comfort of the workplace. Post-project costs are still being documented by the CNT and will be used to make modifications and improvements over time. There have been a few difficulties with the heating and cooling systems which they hope to monitor and resolve through careful management.

The reuse of an existing building in an older urban neighborhood resulted in maintaining 100% of the structural elements and 90% of the building shell elements. Twenty-nine tons of waste were diverted from landfills through careful reuse and recycling. Additionally 31% of materials were manufactured locally and 50% were harvested locally. Thirteen percent of the materials are renewables including the wheatboard, cork millwork.

By saving on building operational and maintenance costs, CNT is able to use more of its raised dollars on programming and less on its facility. In addition to conserving natural resources, the organization saves close to $10,000 a year on utilities.

The team believes that through close coordination, cooperation, and effective communication, the project was successful. They also believe that the educational process is essential to achieving success in a green project, but is time well spent on the front side of a project before major decisions get made and implemented. The additional effort required to get contractors and sub-contractors up to speed on LEED® issues added additional administrative time to the contract, but ultimately saved money during construction and over the life of the building. The team also believes that coordinating the scale of the project to the scale of the professionals involved with the project is necessary. A smaller project benefits from the involvement of smaller firms and contractors.

To view the renovation process, please visit the CNT Web site.


  • LEED® Platinum Rating


  • City of Chicago's Mayor Daley's GreenWorks Award for "Outstanding Non-residential Project" May 2004
  • First Place: SBIC 2004 Awards Program: Exemplary Sustainable Building Awards