From its humble beginnings as a small grocery store in Austin, Texas, in 1980, Whole Foods has become an international phenomenon. With 270 locations in North America and the U.K., the retail grocery chain has made a name for itself by providing high-quality organic foods to its customers.
To complement the top-shelf groceries found inside each store, Whole Foods is dedicated to creating an attractive, upscale environment for shoppers. When the store began to outgrow its old location in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, the retailer approached Deerfield, Ill.-based developer and general contractor, Bentley Construction. The firm owned a plot about a block from the original location and determined it would be a perfect spot for a brand new store.
More than just a store, this new location was built to be Whole Foods’ Midwest flagship and a vibrant addition to the neighborhood where it resides. Inside, a contemporary design provides a unique experience for shoppers. The 90,000-square-foot store includes seven locally inspired eateries, a music stage, wireless Internet access and seating for 400 in the dining and lounge area. Outside, metal is an integral part of a modern design that reflects Lincoln Park’s hip, youthful culture.
Make It Metal
“Since Whole Foods is the tenant, they contributed ideas to the design,” explains James C. Tuschall, president and chief executive officer of Tuschall Engineering, Burr Ridge, Ill. “If they wanted a more expensive metal panel, they had to pay for part or all of the costs. There was a balancing act of dollars between the developer and the tenant.”
To achieve the high-end exterior design the store was looking for, the developer approached the Chicago office of San Francisco-based Gensler. It was Gensler’s task to take the concepts provided by the tenant and the developer and bring the finished product to life in a practical, cost-effective fashion. “We wanted to build the building as close to the design intent as we could,” says Greg Huette, project manager with Gensler. “While going through the design process, however, it became evident that it was going to be over budget. So we went through a value engineering process where we changed out some materials and changed some of the features to make it more cost-effective, but we were still able to keep the overall design intent.”
One of the changes in materials involved a shift in the project’s use of metal. “Originally, all the metal on the project was going to be zinc, but we eventually changed that to other types of metal, including insulated metal panels and [aluminum composite material] metal panels,” Huette recalls. “Metal was nice because we could use whatever color we wanted. It was very flexible and more cost effective as well.”
Metal also provided the attributes necessary to achieve the kinds of curves called for in the design. “We had some curves within the architectural features of the design and it helped to have the flexibility of metal panels,” Huette says.
Drawing curves is one thing, but incorporating them into the actual structure is no small task. “We did have some challenges with the curved front entry,” Tuschall admits. “It was a challenge because the ACM panels have to follow the same curve as the structure, which isn’t always consistent or within the same tolerance. So we had to coordinate, shim and align where needed. We managed to pull it all off without delays before the store’s opening.”
With so many varied elements at play, coordination was the name of the game. “We worked very closely with the installer because we wanted all the joints in the metal panels and the canopies to align with all the window mullions,” Huette explains. “There were several different radiuses because there were a couple of different depths of canopies. Consequently, there was a lot of coordination between all of us: the curtainwall and metal panel installers, the installer and the general contractor. That was one of the more difficult pieces of the project; coordinating all the different trades when we were trying to line everything up.”
Holding true to its image as a retailer of natural and organic foods, the store also had a number of sustainability goals in mind for its new location. Metal used on the exterior was able to provide the look and performance the owners were looking for. “The insulated metal panels at the top of the parking garage give the building a nice appearance while providing insulating value,” Tuschall says.
“The south end of the building is all enclosed in metal,” Huette adds. “We wanted to keep snow and rain and the elements off the parking ramp. We also used a lot of screening and have a green screen on the entire west side of the building. The screens are made up of wire material with vines planted in to provide shade and help keep the building a little bit cooler.”
Two vegetated roofs top the building, providing further insulation and cooling. “There is one green roof over the atrium and one over the parking ramp,” Huette explains. “We used roof trays that are about 2 feet by 2 feet wide and about 4 to 6 inches deep. They’re filled with sedum and laid on top of the roof.”
Because the vegetated roofs use hearty, local plantings, they do not require added irrigation. “The sedum doesn’t take much to grow; just a little water and it’s fine,” Huette says. “Once it all gets going, the plants fuse together. They’re all intertwined and tangled in with each other to make it one big, solid, stable roof. You don’t have to worry about the trays lifting up and blowing away.”
The building is in the process of applying for LEED Certification from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council. Since it opened in May 2009, the new Whole Foods has become a hotspot in a neighborhood of hotspots. Feedback from shoppers and the community has been overwhelmingly positive. “I haven’t heard any negative feedback, so from our perspective it turned out really well,” Huette says. “We achieved what the client wanted; we’re happy with it and I think they are, too.”
Installation of the metal components went very smoothly, despite some challenges with working in the harsh Chicago winter. For all the accolades the building has received, it’s just business as usual for Tuschall. “We’re getting a lot of publicity for the project, but for us it’s just another job,” he says. “We’re glad to see our work get this kind of exposure.”