The office building used by President Barak Obama as his White House transition headquarters in Chicago is in line for its share of the General Service Administration’s(GSA) American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus money. The 44th president’s time at the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building wasn’t the first time it’s been touched by history. Completed in 1975, the Kluczynski building was one of Mies van der Rohe’s last projects.
According to Bloomberg , the 43-story building in the heart of Chicago’s Loop is waiting on $100 million dollars worth of energy performance upgrades, a small part of which has already been distributed for design and construction management services. The GSA selected the Chicago architecture firm O'Donnell Wicklund Pigozzi and Peterson for the project. This project is part of the $4.3 billion the GSA is spending on green building energy efficiency modernizations , and it’s estimated that 500 to 900 jobs will be created from this office building project alone.
The German-born Mies is perhaps Chicago’s most iconic adopted designer, and his brawny, Modernist work is an architectural touchstone of the city. The Kluczynski building shows off Mies’s classic talents for structural expression and his rigorous, rational spatial proportions. The entire building is organized around a 28-foot grid pattern and is subdivided into six 4-foot, 8-inch modules. Expanding on his work on projects like the Seagram building in New York, the exterior curtain walls of the Kluczynski building are made of projected steel I-beam mullions covered in a cool, black graphite paint.
The renovation of the Kluczynski building hearkens back to a time when the federal government hired the finest architects, before the need for the GSA’s Design Excellence program arose. Its renovation and maintenance (which is inherently sustainable) is a reminder that practical, progressive building is often best applied to improve the resources you have, not in developing new ones. It’s not unusual for architects and policy experts to fret about the amount of quality design that’s going to result from the economic stimulus package’s building projects, but Mies’ building in downtown Chicago is an example of stimulus money being used to maintain a city’s existing architectural heritage.