In 2019, Chicago was named The Greenest City in Green Building Adoption Index, a spot that it has consistently secured over the past years. This recognition can be attributed to its growing number of green building certifications being submitted and passed by construction and architectural firms that serve the commercial, corporate, and multifamily industries, among many others. This could present a timely solution, in that, according to a recent study, a big percentage of Chicago’s carbon emissions come from the city’s buildings and other urban structures. With Chicago’s government aiming for a stronger and thriving environmental and economic future, the role of architects and builders that share the same advocacy and embrace green design practices is significantly put into focus.
Below are the best green architects in Chicago. The firms included here are design and architecture studios that are led and operated by licensed architects. These firms are either based in the city or have taken on design and architecture commissions for residential and multiresidential projects in the area. The article looked at each of the firm’s contributions to the industry’s sustainable movement through projects conceptualized based on the emerging green design and building practices that its advocates have championed for years. The list also considered the number of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified projects that the firm delivered through the years as well as its affiliations with relevant entities in the industry, including the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Built it Green organization, among others. Additionally, these firms are multi-awarded design and architectural studios that have caught the attention of the design and building community through highly commended and unforgettable architectures, many of which have transformed and revitalized the city’s most vibrant residential communities.
Lothan Van Hook DeStefano Architecture
57 W Grand Ave., Suite #300, Chicago, IL 60654
Lothan Van Hook DeStefano Architecture traces its beginnings from one of Chicago’s prolific architecture firms, DeStefano Partners. The company first opened its doors over three decades ago and was a prized venture by the renowned studio’s executives, Avram Lothan, Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), LEED AP BD+C, Mary Ann Van Hook, American Institute of Architects (AIA), LEED AP, and James R. DeStefano FAIA, FALA, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The practice primarily focuses on the residential, education, commercial, and community sectors. Its overall scope covers programming, planning, interiors, design, sustainability, and LEED consulting services.
As a green architect that serves Illinois, the firm has completed an overwhelming list of single-residential designs that not only celebrate the sustainable characteristics of green architecture, but also highlight the transformative qualities of great architecture. One of the projects that showcases the best of both green design and design excellence is a private residence in Chicago. The project won multiple AIA awards, including the AIA Chicago Chapter’s Distinguished Building Award and the Interior Architecture Award. Leading industry publications such as Chicago Tribune magazine also featured the work.
For another project, this time for the education market, the firm led the programming, architecture, and interior design of the 61,038-square-foot Legacy Charter School in Illinois. The client wanted a sustainable building that features inexpensive, minimalist materials. Additionally, it wanted to provide a learning environment that encourages creativity, critical thinking, and environmental and social responsibility. The choice of palette in bright, vivid colors is meant to provide a visually interactive space. The preference for energy-efficient systems, such as solar photovoltaic solutions, exemplifies the school’s vision of teaching citizenship and civic responsibilities. Included in the plan are study and workrooms, private breakout space, as well as traditional and specialty classrooms. Completed in 2017, the project was designed to pass the LEED-Platinum standard. Licensed Architect and The Architect’s Newspaper featured the project in their 2014 and 2015 issues, respectively.
2 Point Perspective, Inc.
1137 W Webster Ave., Chicago, IL 60614
Incorporating “sustainability without compromising design.” These words define 2 Point Perspective, Inc.’s integral practice, as a professional that specializes in LEED-certified buildings. Guided with the vision of creating a more environmentally sustainable future, the firm champions green building advocacy that not only defines its architecture practice, but also advances its design methods to cater to the emerging needs of modern lifestyles. The company is known for its innovative practice where it makes use of green building materials and smart technologies that promote sustainability through reduced water consumption, lower carbon emissions, and waste reduction. These characteristics can be found in the firm’s extensive portfolio for the medical, corporate, restaurant, and residential sectors.
The company was founded in 2006 by Lisa Elkins, LEED AP, a licensed Illinois architect and registered interior designer along with her husband, Ron Elkins. The Elkinses have each practiced for more than two decades. Their love of architecture and design has led to including extensive travel, architectural teaching stints, and job opportunities in London, San Francisco, and eventually, Chicago. 2 Point became a certified Women Business Enterprise (WBE) in 2012 and talented staff member, Emily Tjeerdsma, became a partner shortly after.
As a full-service architecture and interior design firm, the company not only takes on designs for new builds, but also specializes in modernizing some of the city’s most iconic historic residences.
As an advocate of the green building movement, 2 Point Perspective, Inc. has completed a long list of projects that follow the standards of sustainability and actively takes part in industry-sponsored events that promote such advocacy. For instance, the design of the Oak Park Zero Energy Home, a small-foot-print residential design developed to pass USGBC’s LEED Platinum standards, was recognized in a village-sponsored green home competition. Another example of its sustainable design project is a recently completed solar powered residence in Chicago. The residence was designed to produce more energy than it will use over the course of a year. It also utilizes energy-efficient windows. Inside, the home features recycled glass countertops and tiles. Aside from using LED lighting, it is also equipped with modern appliances — all are selected based on their energy efficiency.
Elements Architectural Group
1040 North Blvd., Suite #220 Oak Park, IL 60301
Since Elements Architectural Group’s inception in 2006, its practice has been guided by the goal of “designing, creating, and implementing a sustainable vision.” True to this vision, its years of practice are represented by an extensive list of ecologically-responsible designs that showcase its nod to sustainability while putting a spotlight on its excellence in architecture, through multi-awarded and unforgettable projects, featured in the industry’s most prestigious publications.
Modern Luxury Interiors, Chicago’s Kitchen and Bath, Wall Street Journal, Crain’s Chicago Business, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Home + Garden, among others, have highlighted its residential and green designs. These works also caught the attention of respected entities, including the AIA, Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ), ALA, and USGBC, just to name a few. These recognitions are not only a testament to the company’s influence as a renowned architectural firm, but also emphasizes its role in the industry’s growing sustainable design movement. They also represent the vision of the firm’s principal architect, William Scholtens. When Scholtens founded the company, he aimed at creating a studio that practices a highly collaborative and holistic approach to client interaction. True to this goal, the company has conceptualized and curated unique, custom luxury residential, and commercial spaces across the region, many of which feature green and sustainable designs.
One project that represents its caliber as an architect is the Bathed in Light. Located in Lincoln Park, Chicago, this LEED Platinum-certified home used to be a multifamily building that accommodates six different flats. From being a dark, dreary, and forgettable structure, the firm transformed the home into a revitalized haven. The project was an iconic representation of how dated spaces can evolve into a modern abode that carries the promise of sustainability and energy efficiency through green design. The company also deployed state-of-the-art technologies that deliver subtle, yet functional crucial features that maximize the availability of natural light and fresh air. Aside from being the city’s first single-home renovation project that received USGBC’s prolific accreditation, the project was chosen as a setting for Brazilian Furniture + Design company Sossego for its catalog photoshoot.
53 West Jackson Blvs., Chicago, IL 60604
When John DeSalvo Design merged with Florian Architects, it introduced a comprehensive, sustainable, and technology-based design practice that looks at architecture as a “collaborative art.” DESALVOFLORIAN Architects nurtures an environment of collaboration where clients, builders, and designers actively take part in the design process. The initial stages start with conceptualizing design ideas where the project owners, guided by the firm’s design team, choose from a number of options and specific details about the project. The company then synthesizes and refines the resulting design to create a structurally feasible and architecturally unique work. Both builders and project architects then work together to determine the budget and ensure quality control.
The result is a project that represents the stylistic and functional preferences of its homeowners. Similarly, many of the firm’s projects incorporate custom structural and design elements that embody the individuality of their owners: color themes, the choice of materials, fixtures, and other exterior and interior finishes. Its extensive portfolio features modern and contemporary residences, some of which have been commended by the AIA Illinois and AIA Chicago through several Citation of Merit awards. The Benrubi Cohen Residence featured here, for instance, exemplifies these characteristics. The free-standing house highlights contemporary details that allow the indoors to freely interact with the outdoors. Its open, expansive atmosphere is created through the thoughtful use of materials, light, space, and palette.
The firm is currently led by principal architects Paul Florian, FAIA, and John DeSalvo, AIA. With the support of USGBC members and LEED-Accredited Professionals within its team, the company delivers iconic green spaces that highlight sustainable designs and promote how green building practices can enhance the lives of individuals and single-family homeowners. Many of these projects are curated not just to fit the definition of a dream home, but to champion green architectures that promise a better, healthier, high-performing, and enduring residential haven that can be enjoyed by present and future generations.
125 S Clark St., Suite #1100, Chicago, IL 60603
Since HKS Inc.’s inception in 1939, it has brought to life some of the most meaningful architecture and design projects in the country, curated to enhance the lives of their users and bring forth a meaningful impact on the communities that they serve. Its earlier practice highlights several specializations, including services for urban design, interior design, architecture, and sustainable design projects. As an interdisciplinary global design firm, the company has evolved to explore projects beyond architecture and design.
Today, the firm is composed of several teams that come from a multi-faceted background, including anthropologists, researchers, urban designers, healthcare professionals, graphic designers, and more, to deliver services to the aviation, commercial, civic, cultural, education, health, government, hospitality, entertainment, sports, senior living, and residential mixed-use, among others. In Chicago, the firm opened its first doors almost 10 years ago and brought with it the legacy of its early practice as well as introduced its take on sustainability and environmentally responsible practices. Rand Ekman, FAIA and LEED Fellow, leads the company’s sustainable design team as its Principal and Chief Sustainability Officer. Under his leadership, the company has produced some of the most iconic multi-residential and mixed-use green buildings not only in Illinois, but also across some of the major cities in the U.S.
In recent years, the company was named LEED Proven Provider by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), a prestigious title that includes the firm in the industry’s elites that have exhibited a thorough and outstanding practice in administering LEED-certified projects and its relevant documentation. This certification allows the firm to optimize its LEED certification review process for all of its projects. Additionally, the said designation reflects the firm’s performance as a significant leader in the country’s green architecture movement by delivering high-performing, sustainable, and environmentally-conscious architectures across the country.
333 S Wabash Ave., 14th Fl., Chicago, IL 60604
HOK is an award-winning American company that has a global presence as a leader in architecture, design, engineering, and planning. The company is supported by more than 1,600 professionals and works from its 23 offices across three continents. With its more than six decades of practice, the firm remains one of the country’s most established companies that has championed continuous innovation and evolution through the years. These achievements are constantly recognized by the industry’s biggest entities.
For one, ENR has ranked the firm on its top spot for the Best Green Building Architecture/Engineering Firms and the Best Architecture and Engineering Firms listings. The firm was also included among Fast Company’s Most Innovative Architecture Firms in 2019. Aside from its excellence in architecture and engineering, the company is an active and vocal advocate for green architecture. In recent years, the firm was ranked top in Engineering News-Record’s survey of the Top Green Building Design Firms, Architecture/Engineering firm category, and ranked third in the overall report results. Sustainable architectures and green-design projects can be found in its extensive portfolio, especially for its works in the residential sector.
Sustainable living is a huge factor in the firm’s campaign to produce modern spaces that deliver functionality, energy efficiency, and resiliency. Projects all over the world, especially for the high-rise multiresidential sector, mixed-use facilities, and wholesale residential neighborhoods, embody these characteristics. To date, the firm has designed more than 100 million square feet of green spaces, with over 360 green-certified projects. These works are designed to pass USGBC’s most stringent LEED certifications. Some of these projects earned AIA COTE awards for the Sustainable Design Excellence category.
John Ronan Architects
610 N Fairbanks Ct., Chicago, IL 60611
From John Ronan Architects’s headquarters in Chicago, this firm expands its services to deliver an internationally-recognized design practice, renowned for its research-based and collaborative design methodologies. The approach is reflective of its principal architect’s signature as a designer and innovator. Since he started his own firm, John Ronan, FAIA, has pursued an iterative process that allowed him to explore a wide spectrum of ideas aimed to produce a systematic curation of designs that responds to the specific needs of a project’s site, situation, and social, cultural, and economic context. By looking at the specificities and uniqueness of project types from different perspectives and market sectors, Ronan is able to deliver an ever-evolving architectural and design methodology that has transformed many of the region’s architectural landscapes since its founding more than 20 years ago.
The company currently offers urban planning and design, landscape design, interior, and graphic design, and architecture designs. These services cater to different market segments, including cultural, educational, recreational, commercial, spiritual, hospitality, as well as the single and multifamily sectors. The firm’s projects can be found worldwide, many of which are highlighted for their exploratory approach and imposes a thoughtful stand on sustainability and enduring performance.
In recent years, Architect magazine ranked the firm among its Top 50 in Sustainability listing. As a green architect that serves the region, including Chicago’s rising environmentally conscious homeowners, the firm has completed many outstanding works in the city. These are projects that bear the innovation and green design that the firm is celebrated for. The Loft House project, for instance, was one of its most unforgettable works. The firm transformed an existing commercial building and re-adapted it into a loft residence that highlights green spaces, high-performing, and energy-efficient structural features.
Landon Bone Baker Architects
1625 W Carroll Ave., Chicago, IL 60612
Established in 1987, Landon Bone Baker Architects is a transformative and community-driven practice that has not only shaped the region’s residential landscape, but has also uplifted people’s lives through thoughtfully-designed homes that celebrate sustainability, accessibility, and comfort. True to the original vision of the firm, the company remains focused on addressing affordable housing options in the often-overlooked communities in Chicago through close collaboration with their clients.
In 2019, the firm led the design of the Tierra Linda project for the housing advocate organization Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA). Tierra Linda provides 45 affordable housing units across the Humboldt Park community, embodying LUCHA’s commitment to providing healthy and sustainable living spaces to Chicago’s underserved communities. The work was a collaboration with Linn-Mathes Construction, RTM Associates MEP engineers, and Eco Achievers energy consultants. One of the most interesting parts of this commission was the design of the first multifamily Passive House residence in the city. The development ultimately received recognition by Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) as Best Overall Project Winner, representing the marriage between affordable housing and green technology.
549 W Randolph St., Suite #602, Chicago, IL 60661
Legat Architects, a Chicago-based sustainable architecture and interior design firm founded in 1964, works with building owners and communities to overcome facility challenges with design that improves performance and lives. The firm operates six Midwestern studios to bring its local clients convenient access to an exclusive team of architects and designers who know the local context. At the same time, as a global firm, it delivers the caliber and resources of a large company, providing both familiarity and scope to take on projects of different sizes and complexities.
Through the latest in design technologies and innovative architectural practices, Legat emphasizes sustainability and performance. These qualities can be found in its extensive project list, which includes facilities ranging from corporate and multifamily to educational and governmental. Legat has helped clients cut building energy costs by 50% to 60% over standard buildings. The company is also supported by a staff of LEED Accredited Professionals and architects trained to take on green design works inspired by social responsibility.
The firm’s understanding of designing contextually conscious, cost-effective, and sustainable facilities has been showcased through many of its works. For instance, Legat designed the first two community college buildings in Illinois to achieve LEED Platinum certification, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) highest rating for sustainability. For years, the company’s overall contributions to the green design movement as well as its outstanding architectural practice have been constantly commended by the industry. In the past, it earned the notable AIA Northeast Illinois Chapter’s Sustainable Design Award, AIA Chicago’s Distinguished Building Awards, and Landmark Illinois’s Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award.
2855 W Diversey Ave., Chicago, IL 60647
moss is a homegrown, full-service architectural and urban design firm that specializes in architectures curated to deliver an “ecological, green, holistic, and sustainable” approach to design. From its Chicago office, the company expands its services throughout the entire Illinois and other cities in California, Ohio, and Michigan. Laura Cripe and Matt Nardella, a member of the AIA and a LEED-AP, founded the company over 12 years ago.
Before Nardella established his own practice, he spent almost a decade of his career honing his craft and exploring the transformative aspects of sustainable architecture and incorporating them into commercial and residential projects, many of which have been icons in the industry’s green housing movement.
Today, Nardella’s firm highlights a design practice that inspires and motivates people to embrace green design. One of the biggest aspects that have inspired the company to grow and evolve is its nod to sustainability and the conservation of the environment. As an advocate of environmental responsibility, it has conceptualized, curated, and produced residential and commercial properties that provide a healthy, high-performing, and energy-efficient way of life. The company is supported by a team of designers, architects, LEED-accredited professionals, and advocates. Backed by its experience in designing commercial, hospitality, brewery, winery, and residential spaces, this represents an architectural practice that focuses on innovation, creativity, and green design.
410 N Michigan Ave. Suite #1600, Chicago, IL 60611
For more than 85 years, Perkins&Will has explored the power of design and how it can inspire joy, uplift lives, and strengthen the spirit of community. This core concept has guided the company’s practice for decades to produce spaces where architecture delivers a transformative experience to its users and the communities that they serve. Its team of designers and principal architects are honored members of industry institutions, such as the AIA, USGBC, and many are certified as LEED-Accredited Professionals. The firm currently serves a long list of market sectors and operates from its 25 studios around the world.
In Chicago, the firm has designed several multi-award-winning projects that embody the firm’s core belief as an influential mover and practitioner that champions innovation and sustainability. One of its most important works in the city is the design for its own office, a LEED-Platinum-certified office design that represents the firm’s “bold, brave, and brilliant” stand as a reputable company with a multi-awarded practice, recognized by the AIA, International Interior Design Association (IIDA), and American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).
As a premier architectural firm, the Chicago Studio of Perkins&Will has positively impacted the social fabric and urban landscape of the community designing schools, hospitals, universities, research buildings, museums, residential towers, and workplaces. The Northtown Library and Apartments, for instance, represents a new urban typology, co-locating affordable senior housing with a community library to encourage life-long learning, collaboration, and exploration. Awarded a 2020 AIA-ALA Library Building Award, the library is anchored at both ends with vibrant community spaces, while a community room and lobby at the opposite end house an artist-in-residence, available to the community after regular library hours. The 44 affordable apartments help reduce the number of seniors facing housing insecurity in West Ridge. The modular housing units wind above from the west to the east, enlivening the typical residential corridor while creating roof gardens that acknowledge the public park to the east and the quiet residential neighborhood to the west.
30 W Monroe St. Suite #500, Chicago, IL 60603
For more than 35 years, Ratio Design has been at the center of innovation and sustainability, especially when it comes to producing architecturally stunning spaces that answer the call for a more sustainable future, especially in the Chicago construction and design scene. Sarah Wood, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is a senior associate and the director of Sustainability who leads the firm’s green design practice. In the past, Wood took charge of several large-scale projects not just in the U.S. but in many parts of Asia, including China, India, and UAE.
Under Wood’s leadership, the firm highlights sustainability and how green design can transform, revitalize, and introduce new architectures that acknowledge the need for energy-efficient, environmentally conscious, and transformative spaces, to cater to the demands of its modern inhabitants. The company’s team is composed of leaders and architects, LEED-Accredited Professionals whose works have helped rural and urban landscapes embrace a more sustainable future through healthy, high-performing buildings.
The firm is responsible for some of the most stunning multifamily structures in Chicago. One of its high-rise housing projects is the Cityfront Plaza, a mixed-use building that transformed a vacant and underused property in the city’s Streeterville neighborhood into a luxury multiresidential building. The structure now houses 800 units of high-end living spaces. During the early stages of the development, the firm had to build a solid familiarity with the needs of the community and curate a space that blends with its surrounding architecture. The solution was to work with local groups that understand the context of the community. The property’s existing parking garage now serves as the building’s base and was re-clad to fully let in natural daylight and enhance ventilation.
Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM)
224 S Michigan Ave., Suite #1000, Chicago, IL 60604
SOM believes that design is not just about conceptualizing spaces that awe and stun — it’s more about meeting the needs of its users, turning their aspirations into reality, and transforming how they interact with the world around them. This core principle has guided the company since its inception in 1936. As a green architect and advocate for sustainable design, the firm has focused on how design plays a significant role in leading a future of change, especially in the protection and restoration of the natural environment.
Many of its projects all over the world represent the firm’s passionate environmental activism through green-certified architectures that have transformed landscapes in a wide range of sectors, including the multifamily and mixed-use commercial markets. Composed of a team of architects, designers, and engineers, the firm’s sustainable designs are modeled on its ultimate goal of contributing to the much-needed transition into a zero-carbon economy. Aside from producing projects that passed USGBC’s Platinum, Gold, and Silver LEED standards, many of its works in its home city in Chicago also carry the same ideals.
In recent years, the firm designed the Lincoln Common. Commissioned by developer Hines and McCaffery Interests, the firm partnered with architectural, planning and interior design firm, Antunovich Associates. The collaboration produced a design for the 1.1 million-square-foot mixed-use facility on the former site of the Children’s Memorial Hospital. The new 20-story structure aims to revitalize the urban neighborhood and serve as a central hub for the community. The design also accommodates a long list of spaces for retail, workplaces, and residential units connected by green spaces and a communal area for socializing. Completed in 2019, the project was designed to pass the LEED Silver certification standards. This iconic work was featured in leading industry publications, including Curbed.
Zoka Zola Architecture + Urban Design
1737 W Ohio St., Chicago IL 60622
Zoka Zola Architecture + Urban Design is an award-winning studio celebrated for its monumental contribution to Chicago’s residential and urban architecture. Principal and founder Zoka Zola is an award-winning architect that has established a reputable name not only in the U.S. but also in the countries and communities that she has served through the years. She is licensed to practice architecture in Illinois, in the UK, and her home country of Croatia. Many of her works focus on sustainability and green design, characteristics that made her one of the most relevant designers of today.
After years of apprenticeship and design practice with some of the most renowned architectural studios in Europe, Zola moved to Chicago in 1997 and from there began to establish her presence in the design community.
Aside from three net-zero houses found in Chicago and in Kuala Lumpur, Zola led the architecture team for a solar tower in the city. She is also the lead architect for many prototypes and proposals for residential and affordable housing projects that promote the region’s advocacy for green and energy-efficient designs. One of Zola’s most recognized works is the Pfanner House, a contemporary home named by Architecture magazine as its Home of the Year Award, Best House in North America. It was also among the 43 featured homes in American Masterworks–Houses of the 20th and 21st Centuries, curated by Kenneth Frampton.