Hyatt’s, McCormick’s Green Roofs Gives RealWorld Sustainable Touch

There was a definite emerald hue to RealWorld in Chicago this year, and multifamily sustainability huggers could have eaten their hearts out.

Parts of the rooftops of the McCormick Convention Center and the adjoining Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Hotel, where more than 1,400 property management professionals gathered in July at RealWorld 2014, are lush and green with beds of Sedum, a type of ground cover used for eco-friendly green roofs that are covering more and more city skylines.

Image Source:  Tim Blackwell

Image Source: Tim Blackwell

Three years ago, the Hyatt began construction on its new North Tower in pursuit of LEED Gold status. That meant installing sustainable plumbing and lighting fixtures, as well as a green roof. The 16-story, 460-room tower opened in the first quarter of 2013 and took the Gold while joining dozens of other Windy City buildings that are carrying out Chicago’s LEED building initiatives with pillow-top vegetation overhead.

The Hyatt worked with the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority (MPEA) in 2011 to install the roof, which is similar to portions of the roof covering the convention center’s massive West Building. Rigid specifications were designed into the rooftop to ensure structural integrity to support the weight of the plant life.

Property Management Insider got an exclusive tour of the 8,500-square-foot roof, which actually features two roofs in one. Besides the breathtaking view of the city and Lake Michigan from atop the building, the Sedum-based roof is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, guests aren’t allowed on top to take in the view, but both roofs are visible from upper floors of the South Tower.

Large sections of vegetation top both a maintenance facility on top as well as the primary roof of the North Tower. The gardens, bordered by white walkways, are designed to soak up rainwater that would otherwise run off of a typical flat, gravel-based roof and potentially pollute the city’s water supply.

Several varieties of Sedum – some speculate there are about 600 in the world – creep across elevated planter boxes that inconspicuously empty into the primary rooftop drainage system. Small, star-shaped purple flowers gently sway in the lake’s breeze. A grid of brown plastic irrigation pipes keep the vegetation moist and unimpeded sunlight provides stimulus for growth.

“It’s actually pretty calming up here,” said Hyatt’s Director of Engineering, Roger Martin as he gazed at the white speckle of sailboats easing across Lake Michigan.

While popular with city governments, green roofs are becoming trendy in multi-family. A number of big-city properties across the country are constructing them to comply either with city codes for new structures or with energy efficiency in mind.

Very little upkeep of the roof is involved, Martin says, even though the hotel’s maintenance team checks it weekly to comply with MPEA policy. A rain sensor on the irrigation system ensures that the vegetation is not overwatered during stormy weather.

No analytics have been done to date to determine the energy efficiency of the year-old roof, Martin says, but the roof has attracted positive attention while positioning Hyatt as a sustainable corporate citizen. And that’s a good selling point in a day and age when green-thinking corporations are looking for a place to host meetings and conventions.

“There are quite a few convention groups that are asking the question about sustainability,” he said. “It’s nice to say that we have some portion of our hotel certified.”


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