Institute of Environmental Sustainability

Chicago, Illinois / United States of America

The Institute of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University Chicago boasts Chicago’s largest geothermal field, comprised of 91 wells reaching a depth of 500 feet. The system uses the earth’s consistent temperature to create a comfortable interior environment, heating and cooling the Institute and reducing the building’s energy costs by 30 percent.

A crucial element in achieving the building’s sustainability goals, the geothermal system also presented an opportunity to engage and educate users on how the system functions. Understanding that it can be a challenge for a layperson to grasp the infrastructural magnitude and scientific complexity of geothermal systems, the design team sought to offer a user-friendly way to experience this fundamental—and normally invisible—building feature.

The design team embedded glass floor panels into the IES lounge floor—the most highly-trafficked area of the building—to showcase the geothermal system and present clear, real-time temperature read-outs on LCD display screens and colorful graphics that depict how geothermal heating and cooling works. By elegantly exposing the guts of this hard-working building, this unique detail offers architectural transparency, insight into the design process, and a dramatic and revelatory learning experience that draw users closer to the building’s goals and the University’s mission.

Architect of Record

Solomon Cordwell Buenz


Loyola University Chicago

General Contractor

Power Construction Company, LLC


  • Elara Engineering
  • Halvorson and Partners
  • Transsolar, Inc