After working for architecture and design firms for a number of years, Sander Kaplan decided to set out on his own and in 2004, he founded SKJN Architekten. Located in Chicago, SKJN is an industrial architectural firm that completes projects throughout the state of Illinois. Since its inception, SKJN has built a portfolio of a wide range of building types, such as industrial warehouses, manufacturing buildings, business offices and mixed-use residential and retail buildings.
Architectural services offered by SKJN Architekten consist of building design, interior design, site design, feasibility studies, due diligence reports and project management. With a one-stop-shopping experience for its clients, SKJN provides and coordinates civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection services along with the preparation of contract documents and specifications, shop drawing review and contract administration phases of each project.
As a small architectural firm that specializes in industrial design, SKJN has found a niche market in sustainability. The relatively small size of SKJN allows the firm to pay special attention to every detail of green building and sustainability. “Creating a healthy and sustainable environment just makes perfect sense to us,” says Kaplan. “It’s better for the occupants, the tenants and the owner. We pay close attention to every detail from start to finish, but I think our follow-through on the sustainability factor is a unique aspect that we offer.”
That attention to detail, coupled with the niche that SKJN has established, has proven to be a major factor in the company not only surviving the recession, but continuing to grow and gain clients. With its sustainability efforts, SKJN gained and built relationships with clients who remained strong through the downturn. “A lot of my colleagues got weeded out during that time,” says Kaplan. “Our niche market, dedication to customer service and quality really carried us through.”
Applying sustainable solutions
SKJN recently completed a project that is aiming to achieve LEED Gold certification from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). Located at 1071 West Division Street, on Goose Island in Chicago, the project consisted of the adaptive reuse of a warehousing/manufacturing facility into a multitenant office building. The core, shell and site were renovated and restored for speculative tenants. The design called for a majority of the building’s exterior masonry walls, interior heavy timber framing and original finish wood flooring to be restored in an effort to preserve its original character, while still producing a highly efficient facility.
The shell renovation includes installing high-performing building envelope elements, such as a new R-30 roof and thermally broken storefront windows with insulated, argon-filled glazing units. The building core and tenant spaces utilize a variable refrigerant flow HVAC system. “It’s always great when you can convert an existing building,” says Kaplan. “Before the project was even finished the owner signed a single tenant for a 10-year lease.”
One of the largest projects to date that SKJN has completed was for WaterSaver Faucet Co., a laboratory faucet and valve manufacturing company. WaterSaver Faucet recently expanded and upgraded its world headquarters. The facility includes manufacturing, research and development, material handling, storage areas and corporate offices.
SKJN oversaw the project as owner’s representative through the early stages and eventually took over the project as the architect of record. The project has added 45,000 square feet of atrium, offices and loading docks, and renovated 80,000 square feet of existing manufacturing and assembly space.
A green future
Kaplan says that one of the greatest challenges in the industry is convincing an owner that not only is green building the right thing to do for the environment, but also that they will see a return on their investment. “We do a lot of multitenant buildings and a lot of the time the owner isn’t concerned with things like LED lighting or how much energy their tenants are using because they’re not the ones paying for it,” he explains. “It’s up to us to convince the owner to that it’s not only great for them from a marketing standpoint, but it’s also great for the environment and the tenant.”
While some owners remain reluctant to the idea of achieving LEED certification, Kaplan is confident that the green movement is building momentum and will remain strong within the industry. “Whenever I meet with a potential client I try to discuss LEED options and sustainability with them,” says Kaplan. “While they may not be on board with LEED certification, they are always interested in applying green building and sustainability practices and materials.”
Professionalism, timeliness and personal commitment are reflected in the company’s growing and satisfied clientele. Remaining true to the sustainability movement and continued membership with the USGBC will steer SKJN Architekten into the next phase of the company’s existence.
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