Havells Insignia presents ADEX, a series by Realty+ Masterclass hosted its second episode, featuring Architect Russell Gilchrist, Design Director, Principal, Gensler Chicago who spoke about capturing the value and sustainability through repurposing old buildings. 

With more than 30 years’ experience working for multiple design firms in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, Russell Gilchrist focuses on high-performance, low-energy building design. Russell is a former member of the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) Advisory Board, for which he also served as a Height Committee member on top of being active with various technical working groups.

He oversaw the execution and the design of Pearl River Tower, the world’s most sustainable super-tall building in Guangzhou, China. He has been involved in the award-winning projects of 88 Wood Street in London, a winery in Peñafiel, Spain, the Reichstag Parliament Building in Berlin, London Bridge Jubilee Underground Station, Maison du Japon, in Paris and Glyndebourne Opera House Sussex, UK.



Architect Gilchrist presented to the audience one of his latest projects, which was the renovation and repurposing of the Old Chicago Main Post Office into a mixed-use hub for business and commerce. He highlighted the ways limitations of the site were absorbed within the development, the design approach that was in sync with the context of the building’s setting and how the new development continued to preserve the history of the building.

“The critical challenges of the project comprised the Eisenhower Expressway that bifurcates the building at a grade and a railway line that covers the entire footprint below, and both transportation modes needed to be operational throughout the renovation,” Gilchrist explained.

The transformation included restoration of limestone façade, some 2,200 windows received new glazing, their old steel framing replaced with aluminium. Inside, the lobby, a 350-foot-long grand hall has flooring of amber and white chequered marble, brass grillwork, alcoves clad in gold mosaic tile—all of it retained and extensively cleaned. Slight alterations happened on the ceiling for the installation of and access to new HVAC systems but its gold leaf replicated—and the 6-foot-long 1920s pendant lanterns newly fitted with LEDs.

Strategically positioned escalators transport people to 63,000 square feet of amenities on second floor en-route a stylized brass eagle, abstracted from one on the facade. The 3 1/2-acre rooftop park boasts of a ¼-mile running track, basketball and paddle courts. 

“We call the Chicago Old Post Office transformation as “Awakening of a Sleeping Giant”.  Designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, it was built in two phases. In 1921, came the east building, a six-story brick structure to house the early post office days. Phase two, erected between 1932 and 1934, added two limestone buildings that bookend the existing structure. It’s the city’s largest building—encompassing 2.8 million square feet—and the largest adaptive-reuse project in the U.S.”



Technology has had far reaching effects on enhancing sustainability, energy efficiency and materials efficiency. The advanced construction materials have enabled us to reduce carbon emissions. In fact, technology and building automation are going to play a major role in increasing resource and energy efficiency of modern buildings going forward.

For instance, automated glass facades are getting more sophisticated with integrated solar systems. However, glass should be used judiciously in exteriors especially in tropical countries. Natural light and ventilation especially in current times are getting a lot of attention from designers including sensor based touchless operations in the buildings.

We are aiming toward net zero energy buildings as Gensler has committed to be carbon neutral in all its projects by 2030.



The taller you build the structure, the more people you need to transport. The taller the elevator shaft the more stack effect which you cannot avoid in a tall building. Tall buildings present a lot of challenges in construction and in terms of maintaining operational efficiency. 

Tall buildings don’t make an economic sense. Sometimes a tall building acts as an icon for a city like, Shanghai Tower, a 630 meters tall tower designed by Gensler was a requirement from the Shanghai government because they wanted to build their skyline that will attract people and make it a famous city. 

On the other hand, in China largely due to glare issues there is now a mandate for a building envelope to have a maximum of 40% glazing and because of this the country is able to build more energy efficient buildings.

To design a low energy building, first and foremost is to consider the site, the building orientation, the geographic and climatic conditions of the area and incorporating those factors in design, materials and construction methodology. As architects we need to stay updated on new technologies that we can adopt effectively in our structures to make them more convenient for end users as well as friendly to the environment.

India has an immense potential of repurposing its grand civic buildings, however a lot of factors need to be considered such as the condition of the building, costs, location, return on investment once converted to a new use etc. Reusing an existing building for a new use is the best way to reduce carbon foot print and utilize embodied energy of the building.

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