“We are trying to make the whole building dignified and beautiful – something
that will be beautiful not only today, but one hundred years from now.” T.E.
On the cover: The arched, two-story entrance of Indiana limestone stands in stark contrast to the modern buildings of today. The natural carved beauty of this entrance leaves a lasting impression outdone only by the beauty within. (ABOVE)Oversized and custom-made shafts located throughout the building provide an easy access route for the thousands of miles of conduit that must be run to provide adequate mechanical, fiber optic and electrical wires needed to make 350 E. Cermak the “most powerful building.”
As construction began in 1917, little did T.E. Donnelley know how true his
statement would become. His building has achieved historical landmark status
and is, indeed,
just as beautiful today as it was when it was completed in 1929. The current
owner, Digital Realty Trust, (www.digitalrealtytrust.com; NYSE:DLR), is the
only national public company specializing in technology-related real estate,
company has jumped into the Chicago market with both feet. With properties
located at 350 E. Cermak and 600 S. Federal, they are rapidly becoming a leading
real estate company here in Chicago. Managed by Capstar Commercial Real Estate
Services, this Dallas-based company has joined with Digital Realty in providing
leasing and management services in the leading datacenter facility located
in the Midwest.
Starting construction in 1912, architect Howard Van Doren Shaw was determined
to provide the Donnelley printers with “a fireproof design of poured reinforced
concrete columns and an open-shell concrete floor.” Although considered
to be expensive by the standards of that time, Donnelley agreed that the support
would be needed for the many tons of paper they used and large presses they operated.
Supported by 4,675 steel-reinforced concrete columns, this type of construction
not only served the Donnelley’s well, it also provided the perfect infrastructure
for future tenants. To further the building’s support structure, reinforcing
bars, normally laid perpendicular, were laid at various angles enabling the
floors to bear loads of at least 250 pounds per square foot.
While 350 E. Cermak can boast of being the most powerful, they can also add most beautiful. The Memorial Library floor is inlaid with imported Italian teakwood.
350 E. Cermak stands today very different from the modern buildings of Chicago.
Built in an English gothic design, the arched, two-story doorway comprised
of stone walls provides a breathtaking entrance into this remarkable building.
red brick exterior is trimmed with Indiana limestone and adorned by terra-cotta
shields on which printers’ marks are symbolized. The main lobby of 350
E. Cermak boasts a vaulted stone ceiling with marble flooring and carved arched
entries of stone leading into hallways throughout the building. All offices
were constructed with heavy oak doors and paneled walls with intricately hand-carved
The library bookshelves are hand carved Eanglish oak and a wrought iron staircase provided access to the second floor shelves.
Perhaps the most outstanding architectural feature of this building, however,
lies on the first two floors of the six-story tower constructed on the east
side of the building. Dedicated to R. R. Donnelley, the Memorial Library continued
the impressive gothic design of the building’s entrance. The floor was
laid with imported Italian teakwood, bordered with marble. The bookshelves are
hand-carved English oak. A wrought iron balcony provides accessibility to the
second floor bookshelves accessed using spiral staircases. The most outstanding
feature of the room is the fireplace, constructed of stone and brick. Above it
are carved in stone the names of some of the world’s most renowned printers,
including Gutenburg, Caxton, Baskerville and Kittredge.
In addition to its historical status, the Memorial Library also holds another “claim
to fame.” Its beauty has lent itself to many photo shoot opportunities
and the chance to be seen on the big screen. Most recently, the library was used
in a major motion picture, “Stranger Than Fiction.” Watch for it
when you see the movie.
The hallways continue the gothic design with marble floors throughout, hand-carved doors and arched doorways.
Alas, with the passing of time, things change. And that was true for the
print industry. As the printing process became more technological, the need
big presses declined. Portions of the building were vacant and fell into disrepair
until they were eventually condemned by the city. Donnelley headquarters moved
and the building was sold.
But the changes were not to leave the 350 E. Cermak building behind. Shaw’s
infinite wisdom in designing his building provided the perfect space for the
dot.com boom. Heavy load-bearing floors and 14-foot ceilings provided the optimal
space for computer equipment. Retrofitted in 2000, the former printing plant
was now a technology carrier hotel for Internet and telecommunications companies.
(L to R) Daniel Kowalczyk, Assistant Chief Engineer; Scott Solano, Vice President; Greg Geisler, Assistant General Manager; Gregory Prahl, Chief Engineer.
The Chief Engineer met with CAPSTAR personnel Dan Kowalczyk, Assistant Chief
Engineer, Greg Prahl, Chief Engineer, Greg Geisler, Assistant General Manager,
and Scott Solano, Vice President, for a tour of this magnanimous building and
to find out what makes it so appealing.
And what we found could be summed up this way: Location, infrastructure,
and power, power and more power.
The location of the building enables downtown and suburban businesses to
exchange data seamlessly. The infrastructure, critical to a tenant’s
operations is already in place so mass amounts of capital expenditure do not
have to be
incurred, and, as we will see, a copious amount of power is available.
The “meet-me room” provides an easy convergence space for networks to “meet” each other and supply an uninterrupted data flow.
Central to the building is what is known as the “meet-me room.” With
space enough to support over 200,000 computer servers, tenants can easily access
each other’s network. This easy convergence of networks supplies an interrupted
data flow critical to each tenant. Tenants lease space for their equipment
which is enclosed in cages to provide security. Most of the tenant equipment
by their own engineering staff.
We asked Greg Prahl, Chief Engineer, what the most challenging aspect of
this job was. He told us it has been challenging from the beginning. When CAPSTAR
took over, the timeframe for renovations was short-lived. There were times
when one section was being demolished while another section was being finished
There were times when the crews worked with no heating or cooling, no water,
no lights, etc., etc., for almost the entire first year. Dan Kowalczyk, Assistant
Chief Engineer, agreed. “There were days we would run over to the Hyatt
just to warm our hands.” To their credit, work was completed in less
than six months and ahead of schedule.
The building is a 24/7 building. According to Greg what makes it unique is
that it is maintained for equipment comfort rather than people comfort. Temperatures
needed to run massive amounts of data equipment efficiently are not necessarily
the same as needed for human comfort. Carrier hotels such as this are considered “equipment
loaded and people scarce”, and that makes them unique in their HVAC services.
Along with Evapco units, these Lieberts on the roof are mounted on a “stub up,” a piece of the building’s concrete columns, to distribute the weight of the equipment on the columns, not the roof.
A comprehensive HVAC system is what makes this building run efficiently.
Four Buffalo air handler units rated at 70,000 cfm each provide conditioned
maintained at 55?F to each tenant. Once it reaches a tenant space, that tenant
of handling the conditioned air in a manner suitable to them. Over 300 Liebert
units are in operation with 30 zones per floor to maintain temperature and
humidity. That number is expected to increase as the number of occupants increase.
Manned by a Notifier Fire System, the building utilizes 1,000 gpm electrical fire pumps and more than 12,000 sprinklers. In addition, dry or gel systems have been installed according to equipment specifications.
The fire protection system is manned by a Notifier Fire System control unit.
Utilizing ten standpipes, 1,000 gpm electrical fire pumps and more than 12,000
sprinklers, the building is thoroughly protected from fire damage. Tenants
have individual purge systems within their offices. Some have also installed
gel fire systems depending upon the type of equipment they run. All critical
fire operations are manned from a central location where fans can be turned
on or off, fuel pumps can be shut down and situations can be monitored by fire
Oversized shafts, most custom made, provide the running room for mechanical,
fiber optic and electrical conduit. In addition, the engineering staff has
utilized existing stairwells and freight elevators for mission critical power
to large users. 99% of the conduit is bent at a 90? angle to ensure that no
lines are crossed.
Hot and chilled water is obtained from the TriGen plant next door. With no
boilers or chillers on the equipment list, we asked Greg how he felt the traditional
role of the chief engineer fit in here. “The traditional role of the chief
engineer is changing,” he told us. He went on. “The engineer used
to talk in terms of cfm. Now we talk in terms of watts-per-square foot, tonnage
and communications.” Which led us to the most important feature of this
building – power.
Four power feeds from ComEd are sent directly to a bank of batteries carrying 48 volts each. Through rectifiers, these batteries are continually charged, providing enormous amounts of power to the tenants.
The power consumption of this building is phenomenal. To put it in perspective
one must understand that the average building in Chicago is sized for 8 watts-per-square-foot
on average. 350 E. Cermak is sized for 125 watts-per-square-foot. In addition,
a high level of redundancy leaves tenants secure in the knowledge that no interruption
of power will occur.
Four power feeds from ComEd supply the building from two separate vaults.
This dual electrical grid provides a high degree of redundancy in the event
power failure. Where one grid fails the other picks up immediately. UPS systems
this system until the generators can be started for true power support. Eight
exhaust fans, four on each side, are used to exhaust the ComEd electrical vaults.
The power used by the telecom equipment is actually run on DC current. Therefore,
all power supplied by ComEd is actually fed to a bank of batteries carrying
48 volts per battery. Arriving via rectifiers, the electricity is used to keep
batteries charged. That power then goes out to provide power to the tenant
equipment. In the event that ComEd power is lost, generators have 9-13 minutes
up to power the rectifiers to re-charge the batteries to provide uninterrupted
power to the tenants. Total power usage of the building tops 100 megawatts
and continues to grow.
Generators are a critical piece of equipment here. The property has the ability to install a total of 72 generators onsite.
So, a major piece of equipment for the engineering staff is the generator.
This property has the ability to install a total of 72 generators on-site,
the building and 32 outside, ranging in size from 750 to 2,000 kW each. Two
floors have been dedicated solely to house the generators inside. 300,000 gallons
diesel fuel are stored to power the generators when needed. Of that, 5,000
gallons is dedicated solely to the base building generator which operates base
functions, emergency lighting, ventilation, elevators, etc., in the event of
an actual emergency.
As we accessed the roof for what Dan told us was the best view of Chicago
available, and to see the Evapco and Carrier units up there, we noticed two
features of this building that are rarely seen. First, none of the equipment
was mounted on the actual roof itself. Each piece of equipment is mounted on
a “stub-up”, or a piece of the concrete columns of the building
structure. This was done so that the columns would support the weight of the
not the roof structure. Second, the floor was covered entirely with rubber.
This design was incorporated for the protection it would supply by holding
in the event of spills.
The power entering the building is matched only by the infrastructure. Note the 90? angle of the conduit which is routed at this angle to prevent any cables from crossing over each other.
We had reached the end of our tour.
This building is all about power. Tenants benefit profusely from the ample
and redundant power supplies available and the extensive riser and conduit
Fortune 1000 companies have already made this building their home. There
is no doubt others will follow. There is one thing we can be sure of.
happen that a total blackout occurs in Chicago, 350 E. Cermak will be the
building that lights the way.