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Theresa Chong/MEDILL

Inside the Plant Science Center. The floor is made of recycled materials.

World Environment Day sheds light on LEED-Certified building at Chicago Botanic Garden

by Theresa Chong
Jun 11, 2013

Bob Kirschner

Theresa Chong/MEDILL

Bob Kirschner, director of restoration ecology at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Kirschner is answering questions and educating people about how to make their own rain gardens.


Theresa Chong/MEDILL

Entrance of the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Roof garden

Theresa Chong/MEDILL

Roof garden with approximately 200 different plant species.


Theresa Chong/MEDILL

Windows along the top of the building allow sunlight help illuminate the interior of the building.

In early June, an open house at the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center attracted people from all walks of life to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

“This gives me hope for the future that people are thinking beyond their own world,” said 56-year-old Riverwoods resident Nancy Fencl, a fifth-grade-music teacher.

During World Environment Day, the Plant Science Center set up information booths in and around the building to help educate people about its Gold LEED-certified building.

“The reasons that make the building environmentally friendly also make it people friendly,” said Patrick Herendeen, a senior scientist and director of academic partnerships at the Chicago Botanic Garden. This includes tall windows and slanted ceilings that help optimize the amount of sun entering the offices and laboratories.

The 38,000-square-foot Plant Science Center scored points across six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, innovation and design process, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

Set up just outside the front entrance of the building was Bob Kirschner, director of restoration ecology at the Garden. His water-conservation display welcomed and helped educate the public as they entered the building.

“We take abundant water supplies for granted since we live so close to water and it’s relatively cheap,” Kirschner said.

Now that summer is approaching, he said, planting a rain garden could help divert rainwater away from storm sewers and help prevent flooding damage to homes. A rain garden captures rainwater from roofs, lawns and driveways in order to direct the flow of water toward rehydrating lawns and plants.

According to Herendeen, the 16,000-square-foot green roof has varying soil depths -- four, six and eight inch. “This is a research facility and a beautiful garden,” he said.

Research is being conducted to determine how the varying soil depths affect plant growth and the building’s insulation. Monitoring devices are scattered throughout the roof to gather research data about wind and light levels, moisture levels, and temperatures.

On top of the roof, there are also 288 solar photovoltaic panels providing approximately five percent of the building’s energy requirements.

Herendeen said the building was more expensive to construct, but that in the long run it will save on energy bills. Although green buildings have a tendency to come with a higher price tag, according to some residents, this might be a necessary step toward a more innovative future.

“The first airplane we built flew 120 feet and 60 years later we landed on the moon,” said Nick Lucas, a 28-year-old Chicago resident. Lucas said constructing greener buildings now is a step toward the future of greener living.

“When I finally stop being a gypsy and when I have my own roof, I’ll try to incorporate some of these initiatives, like the rain garden,” Lucas said.