When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, developers with office buildings under construction needed to figure out additional measures to provide workplace environments that better protect occupant health. At the ULI Fall Meeting in Chicago this year, attendees will have the chance to tour two new office towers and hear from their development teams about the measures taken to adapt to the new circumstances.
The 50-story BMO Tower is part of the redevelopment of the historic Chicago Union Station. Designed by Goettsch Partners for Riverside Investment and Development and Convexity Properties, it is slated for completion at the end of 2021. The anchor tenant is BMO Harris Bank.
After extensive research, the development team focused on four areas for enhancing occupant health, says Rafael Carreira, executive vice president of Riverside Investment and Development. “The first is ventilation, because COVID-19 has led everyone to think about the air they breathe,” he says. “We added secondary air filtration systems and increased air quality monitoring.” The second area was vertical transportation. “We will use a destination dispatch system to limit the number of people using the elevator at the same time, without compromising wait times.”
The third category is reducing the chance of infection transmission on surfaces. The entrance will have touchless revolving doors. People entering can use their smartphones to enter the turnstile. Washrooms will have antimicrobial finishes and plumbing fixtures.
The fourth category is outdoor spaces. “We have this wonderful park on the west side of the building. It will have a bar on one side and a restaurant on the other, and there will be food trucks at lunchtime,” says Carreira. BMO employees will also have access to a roof terrace on the 17th floor.
The other stop on the tour, Fulton East, is a 12-story office and retail building in Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood. Completed at the end of 2020, the structure was designed by the Lamar Johnson Collaborative to follow biophilic principles, says Bob Wislow, chairman and chief executive officer of Parkside Realty Inc., Fulton East’s developer. Fulton East also has plentiful outdoor spaces, including a balcony on every floor. “On the roof deck, we built a community garden with outdoor seating,” he says.
To improve interior air quality, the development team deployed airPHX nonthermal plasma technology. “It brings air into the system and passes it through plasma, which drops out pathogens and emits disinfected air,” says Wislow.
Fulton East also has a touchless security and entry system, touchless plumbing fixtures, and antimicrobial paint in the bathrooms. Parkside Realty contracted with MAD Elevator Inc. to install the company’s Toe-To-Go hands-free elevator system, which relies on foot-activated call buttons, avoiding the need to touch call buttons by hand.
“Studies of biophilic buildings show there is a substantial increase in productivity and a decrease in absenteeism due to colds and flus,” Wislow says. “And they show that employees feel more contentment. We think that the additional things we’ve done will give people even more peace of mind.”