There’s no rule that says a traditional company with a long-standing history can’t be progressive and forward-thinking, too. For 75 years, Mesirow Financial has merged its creative entrepreneurial spirit with a conservative Midwestern approach to doing business, enabling the company to evolve from a small brokerage firm at its inception in 1937 into the more-than-1,200-person diversified financial services company it is today. And its new 348,000-square-foot headquarters in Chicago underscores its balanced yet adaptive business outlook.

Designed by the Chicago office of IA Interior Architects, the new headquarters occupies 12 floors of a newly constructed 45-story office tower—designed by Lohan Anderson and developed by a team including Mesirow Financial—on North Clark Street in Chicago’s River North area. While the space plan of the new offices tilts toward tradition (enclosed offices, often situated around the perimeter, occupy a substantial portion of workspace floors), it also incorporates sustainable features that have contributed to earning Mesirow’s offices LEED Gold certification, which matches the LEED certification earned by the core and shell. “At the outset, we came up with our project requirements and stated our philosophy and goals on sustainability,” says David Rotholz, a senior vice president with Mesirow Financial. “We were committed to achieving LEED Gold so that our interiors would be consistent with the base building.”

A keen sense of environmental consciousness played into the sustainable choices made by Mesirow’s leaders; not surprisingly, financial motives drove their decision-making process, too. By committing to designing to LEED standards through the City of Chicago’s Green Building Permit Program, Mesirow was able to expedite the permit process and reduce its permitting costs. It also saved money through significantly reduced energy expenses thanks to an array of systems solutions, many suggested by Mesirow’s LEED consultant, HJKessler Associates, in conjunction with the design team before the base building was completed. Among the most significant of these was the lighting system. “The City of Chicago has a strict energy code, requiring lighting to meet 1 watt per square foot, which is more stringent than the LEED 2.0 and ASHRAE 90.1-2004 prerequisites,” says Arturo Febry, IA principal and design director on the project. “Another challenge was to target a 25 percent power reduction for the Optimize Energy Performance credit. So the challenge was to have adequate lighting levels where needed while conforming with the city’s energy laws.”

By installing a mix of energy-efficient light fixtures with addressable ballasts, occupancy sensors, and daylight-harvesting sensors, the design team created a lighting scheme that dramatically reduces energy consumption. “The light fixtures are controlled through Lutron’s Quantum system and are preprogrammed to operate at 80 percent,” says Ann Marie Krol, IA associate and senior designer on the project. By utilizing this system, Rotholz says, “the instantaneous power savings over the past 12-month period was 33 percent, or 164kW. The total cost savings relative to a ‘full on’ condition was approximately $235,116, or a savings of 2,351MWh.”

Working with HJKessler Associates, the design team introduced a combination of additional efficient systems and construction approaches that further reduce the office’s energy consumption. In terms of plumbing, the use of water-conserving, low-flow fixtures in kitchens, pantry areas, and restrooms has lowered water usage by 30 percent. The installation of Energy Star–rated equipment throughout has also resulted in lower energy consumption and utility bills. An indoor-air-quality management plan, which aimed to minimize and contain dust during construction, allowed for the monitoring of air quality as the offices were being built. And the use of Lutron’s Green Glance software enables energy consumption to be managed on a floor-by-floor basis now that the building is complete.

To address Mesirow’s mandate for flexibility, the design team introduced an infrastructure grid in the ceiling and deployed demountable modular systems in 90 percent of the workspaces to reduce environmental impact—as well as costs—whenever the firm needs to reconfigure workspaces, offices, and even conference rooms. The headquarters project combined two separate office locations into a single new location, so the offices now also fulfill the company’s goal of creating a unified space that clearly presents one brand and one name. At the same time, the furniture systems provide flexibility to establish a sense of individuality. “This was a cultural change for Mesirow—it was the first time everyone was in one facility, so we created systems composed of a kit of parts to accommodate the various business groups, allowing them to change the looks of their suites without changing the footprint,” Krol says.

The materials and finishes in the offices are as sophisticated as they are sustainable. “It was essential for us to have our offices be of the highest quality,” Rotholz says. Millwork made of FSC-certified eucalyptus and low-VOC-emitting carpets bring a sense of tradition and luxury to the space without compromising environmental benefit. Light-colored finishes and clear glass-enclosed offices keep spaces bright and minimize the need for excessive energy-consuming fixtures (the light load is less than 1 watt per square foot).

Thanks to the efforts of a conscientious design team, Mesirow Financial’s new corporate headquarters now reflect its entrepreneurial culture, as well as its high ethical and professional standards. “We achieved all 38 of the LEED points we requested,” Rotholz says. “By embracing a sustainable and flexible design philosophy, all aspects of our business have benefited and our clients have responded positively as well.” ?

Jean Nayar writes about architecture, design, and real estate from New York City.