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Originally built in 1921, the Old Chicago Post Office was once the largest property of its kind, processing a whopping 19 million pieces of mail each day. In fact, the building underwent a major expansion in 1932 to accommodate the meteoric rise of the mail-order industry, an industry where Chicago became a hub thanks to the Chicago-based Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogs.
Yet, after more than 60 years of activity, the iconic building was left vacant in 1997 and sat idle for more than two decades — that is until 601 W Cos. purchased the Chicago landmark in 2016. Now, just five years later, the Old Chicago Post Office and its $800 million renovation stands as the largest historic redevelopment in the country.
Thanks to specifications from design and architectural firm Gensler and work from BEAR Construction Co., the building boasts more than 2.5 million square feet of stunning multi-use office and event space. It is home to nationally renowned tenants such as Walgreens, Uber, Cisco, PepsiCo, and more.
Countless retrofit elements come along with an overhaul of this magnitude, and the restroom is certainly one of them. As the second-most visited space in any commercial building after the lobby, the restroom is tasked with shaping a visitor’s impression of the building. With this in mind, Gensler and BEAR Construction knew the Old Chicago Post Office restrooms needed to make a statement.
A Touch of Gold
Speaking of the lobby, one of the hallmarks of the historic building was the stunning brass ornamentation and revolving doors that once greeted guests when they entered the soaring two-story lobby. The classic Art Deco design included beautiful golden bronze touches in the lobby and throughout the entire building — from gold turnstiles and gold mosaic tile to gold leaf ceilings. Gensler wanted that same design to carry over into the building’s updated look, including the restrooms.
The Old Chicago Post Office’s new and improved restrooms feature an entirely gold aesthetic, creating an environment with one cohesive design to match the look and feel of the building. All Sloan faucets and soap dispensers were specified with an eye-catching polished brass special finish to deliver a golden effect that adds an element of high design to the handwashing process. These gold fixtures are coupled with mirrors featuring gold trim as well.
The restroom retrofit at the Old Chicago Post Office is emblematic of the growing trend for architects and designers to create a unified commercial restroom design across the entire space where everything from a product’s color, materials, angularity and more create one cohesive aesthetic to set the tone for modern specification.
A Win for Health and Wellness
While the project was completed just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Old Chicago Post Office proved to be fortuitous and is emblematic of almost every retrofit or new construction project focused on health and wellness.
Simply put, commercial buildings are required to be more conducive to a post-COVID-19 business environment. This is especially true in the commercial restroom where high-touch surfaces such as faucets and soap dispensers can be breeding grounds for germs and bacteria, to the tune of 17,976 germs per 10 square centimeters on manual faucet handles.
This is more important now than ever as office tenants are returning — or soon to be returning — to workplace environments and want the peace of mind that comes with touch-free fixtures. According to a survey by Zogby International, 93 percent of Americans try to avoid coming in contact with germs by employing evasive measures, while 65 percent use a paper towel when touching door handles, faucets or toilet flushers.
It’s why the new Old Chicago Post Office restrooms are completely touch-free environments, from the faucets and soap dispensers to the flushometers. The hygienic benefits of the sensor-operated products are matched by their water-saving elements contributing to the Old Chicago Post Office achieving both LEED Gold and Well building certification.
The leading tool for advancing health and well-being in buildings globally, the WELL Health-Safety rating seal on a building indicates confidence and trust for all building tenants.
The restroom wasn’t the only area where Gensler specified products with health and wellness in mind. For example, the building’s air filtration system met or exceeded the highest quality HVAC standards, all water dispensers have refillable stations, locker rooms are designed without doors to minimize touch-points, a rooftop meadow allows occupants to enjoy a socially distanced space, and more.
Sloan’s variety of special finish options — including graphite, brushed nickel, brushed stainless and the polished brass specified at the Old Chicago Post Office — are helping to create a design statement in the commercial restroom.
Morgan Kish is the senior product line manager for faucets, soap dispensers, hand dryers, and showerheads at Sloan. The manufacturer has provided innovation in water-saving fixtures for 115 years.