AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects

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Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation

This photograph shows the southwest corner of the building, at dusk.
Photo credit: Steve Hall, Hedrich Blessing


  • Location: Evanston, IL
  • Building type(s): Community, Daycare, Other, K-12 education, Assembly, Library
  • New construction
  • 31,600 ft2 (2,940 m2)
  • Project scope: a single building
  • Urban setting
  • Completed February 2008
  • Rating: U.S. Green Building Council LEED-NC, v.2/v.2.1--Level: Platinum (53 points)

The new synagogue for the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston, Illinois, replaces the group's original building and is located adjacent to a residential area, public park, community center, and tracks of the Skokie Swift commuter train. The design balances the limitations of a small site with an ambitious program that promotes worship, education, and community objectives.

Offices, early childhood classrooms, and a chapel occupy the first floor; the religious school and library are on the second floor; and a sanctuary, social hall, and kitchen are on the third floor. This strategy allowed cost-effective construction of high-volume space for the sanctuary.

JRC's commitment to the principle of tikkun olam—Hebrew for "repairing the world"—is manifest in the building's architecture. On a modest budget, the synagogue achieved a LEED Platinum certification, a primary goal of its board of directors. JRC has become a community leader, demonstrating benefits of green design.

This project was chosen as an AIA Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Project for 2009. It was submitted by Ross Barney Architects in Chicago, Illinois. Additional project team members are listed on the "Process" screen.

Environmental Aspects

The key environmental issues that influenced the project design were land use and stormwater management.

Situated in an urban, residential area of Evanston, the zoning ordinances limited the building size. A detailed analysis mapped hourly space use over a typical week to identify opportunities for flexibility and efficiencies; this mapping led to a 25% reduction in required space. Synergistically, this left more open space to to meet stormwater requirements.

The early, careful consideration of green strategies integrated the architecture and building systems, reducing floor-to-floor heights to 12 ft, saving 25,000 ft3 in building volume. Perimeter spaces have 9.5 ft ceilings, enhancing daylighting and natural ventilation.

Project team members also paid close attention to materials used in construction. The synagogue is a wooden box clad with reclaimed cypress, with spectrally selective, low-emissivity glazing. Gabion walls filled with waste masonry are used at the perimeter of the site . Reclaimed cypress was also used indoors in the worship spaces. Polished concrete floors were used in most spaces, eliminating the need for floor coverings. Paints and finishes with low levels of volatile organic compounds were used throughout

Owner & Occupancy

  • Owned and occupied by Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, Corporation, nonprofit
  • Typically occupied by 10 people, 42 hours per person per week; and 474 visitors per week, 16 hours per visitor per week


Integrated team, Design charrette, Simulation, Green specifications, Contracting, Commissioning, Performance measurement and verification, Operations and maintenance, Open space preservation, Indigenous vegetation, Stormwater management, Efficient fixtures and appliances, Drought-tolerant landscaping, Massing and orientation, Insulation levels, Glazing, Airtightness, Passive solar, HVAC, Lighting control and daylight harvesting, Efficient lighting, Adaptable design, Durability, Benign materials, Salvaged materials, Recycled materials, Local materials, Certified wood, C&D waste management, Occupant recycling, Connection to outdoors, Daylighting, Natural ventilation, Thermal comfort, Low-emitting materials

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Last updated: 4/13/2009

Our thanks to the ENERGY STAR program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and to the U.S. Department of Energy, and to BuildingGreen, Inc. for hosting the submission and judging forms.

For more information about the AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects, contact AIA/COTE. For help on how to use this Web site, contact .

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