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Downtown’s new McDonald’s shows off its cross-laminated timber design

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The sustainable building material is making its Chicago debut

Jay Koziarz

A far cry from the kitschy memorabilia of the Rock ’n’ Roll-themed building it replaces, the essentially all-new design of River North’s flagship McDonalds at 600 N. Clark Street is finally starting to come together.

At its heart is an innovative construction material known as Cross Laminated Timber. In line with the fast food brand’s plan to reinvent its image, the sustainable building method is being employed for the first time in a commercial project in Chicago.

“One way to think about it is plywood on steroids,” Chicago-based designer Carol Ross Barney of Ross Barney Architects told Curbed Chicago. “It’s formed from smaller sized pieces of timber glued together for uniform strength.

“CLT is versatile, and because the wood can be harvested and renewed at a more regular interval, it has a relatively low carbon footprint. You can use it like any panelized material such as precast concrete or steel. Here we’re using it as a deck structure.”

The choice to use timber came early in the process when McDonald’s first engaged Barney’s firm with the goal of design authenticity. “Some of the most durable materials aren’t very authentic,” explained the architect. “And some of the most authentic materials don’t hold up over time. CLT offers a great deal of both while reflecting the client’s commitment to sustainability.”

As for the large hole seen in the center of the CLT deck? Here Ross Barney Architects and restaurant interior design specialist Landini Associates plan a suspended, drop-down apple orchard designed by Omni Ecosystems.

“The goal was to show the relationship between food and the physical act of growing,” explained Barney. “While the fruit won’t be used in the actual restaurant itself, guests will still be able to see apples grow and form the visual connection.

The interior renovation of the store’s kitchen—the only major component carried over from the old Rock ‘N’ Roll structure—is mostly complete. Crews will now work to install the store’s glass curtain wall, overhead canopy of solar panels, and new landscaping.

Rendering courtesy of Ross Barney Architects

“We’re really pleased with how it’s turning out,” added Barney. “And we’re targeting a LEED platinum certification which is pretty extraordinary for a standalone fast food restaurant.”

As River North’s McDonald’s takes shape, other Chicago developers and architects are looking to wood as the next big thing in sustainable design. Developer Hines Interest is currently working on T3—a six-story, 270,000-square-foot mass timber office building slated for 1017 W. Division Street on Goose Island.

Meanwhile, a team consisting of Cambridge University, architecture firm Perkins + Will, and structural engineers Thornton Tomasetti are exploring the idea of an all-timber skyscraper. In 2016 the group released conceptual renderings of the 80-story “River Beech” tower along the South Branch of the Chicago River.

Jay Koziarz
Jay Koziarz
Jay Koziarz