Case Studies

Cook Architectural Design Studio

A leader in Chicago’s sustainable design market

Founded in 2009 by Charles Cook, Cook Architectural Design Studio (CA/ds) is a Chicago-based architecture firm that completes work throughout the Windy City and beyond. The award-winning, full-service firm is particularly adept at sustainable home and building design, with a team of LEED-accredited professionals on staff to ensure that every project meets the specific sustainability requirements of its owner or occupant.

CA/ds performs work in both the commercial and residential markets and can tailor its approach to fit nearly any sensibility, from classic, historically accurate building styles to cleaner, contemporary fare. The company offers a slate of related services including master planning, schematic design, design development, construction documents and construction observation phases.

Cook Architectural Design Studio

While CA/ds  is known for its sustainable approach to building design, Cook is careful to ensure that the company does not sacrifice aesthetics in the name of environmental performance. “Most of the time we are implementing sustainable approaches with the intent of the project outcome looking as it would have otherwise,” says Cook.

The tendency to opt for performance over aesthetics is all too common in the current LEED-obsessed market and the results are often not pretty. “We’re not trying to make a statement like ‘look at that building; it must be sustainable and that’s why it ended up looking that way,’” he says.

A small but nimble team

With just six employees CA/ds is a relatively small architecture firm, though Cook himself has ample experience with some much larger companies. When he first arrived in Chicago in 1986, Cook spent a summer internship at Perkins+Will, a storied firm with more than 1,500 employees.

Cook then moved on to Pappageorge Haymes, a midsize firm where he spent eight years working on projects of all sizes. In 1995, Cook struck out on his own and formed a partnership with a former classmate that operated for fourteen years before CA/ds came into being.

Having worked at firms that ranged in size from four employees to 1,500, Cook has intentionally kept CA/ds a smaller operation in hopes of maintaining better customer service and flexibility. “We like it that way to be honest. It keeps us efficient and in tune with our clients from the beginning to the end because things don’t get lost in translation; it creates efficiency and better service for our clients,” he says.

While CA/ds works primarily in the greater Chicago region, the firm’s projects can be also be found across the country from New York to Los Angeles. Being located in Illinois gives CA/ds instant credibility in the sustainable design market, given the state’s reputation as a leader in sustainable design with more square feet of LEED-certified space than any other state. “I think everyone would have assumed it would have been somewhere warmer, but I’m proud that Chicago is on the forefront,” he says.

A different approach to sustainability

For Cook, sustainability isn’t just a checklist of requirements; it’s a holistic approach to building design. “To me, it’s about being smart about the materials and approaches that go into a building in a way that is smart and not just chasing a green label,” he says.

While sustainability goals were once more difficult to attain, an industrywide shift is beginning to take place that is dramatically improving access to sustainable building materials while also reducing cost and educating consumers. “It used to be a struggle to find products you could use, or people who  understood the process to begin with. Every year it becomes easier and easier because the manufacturers are more in tune with this,” Cook says.

This trend extends beyond the manufacturing side and into the construction industry and beyond. “Contractors seem to understand the process a little better and I think it’s just becoming easier even on the code side,” says Cook. “More and more municipalities are adopting what were once LEED guidelines and those are now becoming their building codes.”

While it’s never been cheaper or easier to get hold of sustainable building materials, there are still some challenges when it comes to green building, such as the perception that it’s always going to cost more. “That’s probably the biggest hurdle,” says Cook.

In reality, it’s the process of becoming certified as a LEED building that is often one of the more expensive factors. To address that issue, CA/ds will often complete a project to LEED standards, cataloging green and sustainable checkmarks along the way, but never actually submit the building for LEED certification.

“Clients like the idea behind it but they don’t really need a plaque or document that says that,” Cook elaborates. “It’s about letting people know that they don’t have to be LEED-certified to be sustainable.”

This was the approach taken on a recent residential project in Northfield, where CA/ds built an 8,000-square-foot home with Scott Simpson Builders. “We had a well-educated client who wanted to do it right, from where the house sits on the property to the exterior materials selected, not to mention some great integrated systems that make the house function very well. It utilizes geothermal heating and cooling and has a small weather station on the roof to anticipate changes in weather before they impact the interior comfort.  The design also incorporates passive sustainability like exterior sun shading and vertical ventilation shafts,” he says. “That was a strong candidate for LEED, but we just never did all the paperwork.”

CA/ds has taken a similar approach on its commercial projects by incorporating daylighting methods and sustainable materials in unique ways.  CA/ds’ own office is another example of their commitment to sustainability. Using salvaged materials and incorporating polycarbonate panels typically used for greenhouses as a partition wall, the company was able to enhance daylight harvesting in its own office build-out.

When measuring the success of CA/ds, Cook says he’s proud that most of the firm’s work comes from referrals and repeat business. “To me, the most important thing is that the perception in the market is that we’re producing high-quality products for our clients and doing so in a way that is economically viable for both us and them,” he says.

While Cook would like to see CA/ds continue its current trend of growth, he is mindful of maintaining a nimble team of experts with exceptional internal communication. “It’s about maintaining the quality of work so as things move along we’ll be able to be in a position and be lucky enough to work on some nice, interesting projects,” he says.

As a trusted name in the nation’s epicenter of sustainable, LEED-certified design, Cook Architectural Design Studio will continue to serve clients throughout Illinois and beyond with sustainable building design incorporating the latest in green building technology.

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