#EcoRenovate Breathes New Life Into an Architectural Icon

#EcoRenovate Breathes New Life Into an Architectural Icon

Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thank you for helping us continue to bring you great content.

Image: University Park Condominium Exterior Elemental Green

By Jesse Bratter, Contributing Editor

Past Meets Future Thanks To Elemental Green’s Sustainable Apartment Renovation In Chicago’s Hyde Park

In 1961, esteemed architects I.M. Pei and Araldo Cossutta designed two mid-rise apartment buildings in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago as a major part of the ambitious and controversial Hyde Park Redevelopment Project. Supported by a concrete curtain wall and dotted with arched, floor-to-ceiling windows, the commanding 10-story towers surround a central courtyard with pool, fountain and rectangular gardens, pulling influence from the architectural stylings of Le Corbusier. Today, those buildings, which make up University Park Condominium, stand as an iconic example of the architects’ work. And the modernist aesthetic still resonates.

Boasting sweeping views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, an impressive pedigree, and a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, this building stood out as a perfect candidate to spotlight an eco-upgrade. A penthouse unit became Elemental Green’s first branded sustainable renovation and virtual showhouse, affectionately dubbed #EcoRenovate. Helmed by Elemental Green Founder and CEO Sheridan Foster, #EcoRenovate takes readers through the process of renovating the kitchen, bathrooms, flooring and striking windows to be more energy efficient and mindful of the environment.

It’s a fitting undertaking, since Elemental Green’s mission is to make green home building and sustainable renovation the status quo—to show readers why it’s important and how to get there. In this vein, Sheridan and the Elemental Green team are sharing every step of the sustainable upgrades and eco-friendly renovations tackled in this historically significant landmark. With guidance from architect Richard Kasemsarn and partnerships with many exceptional brands and products, we’ve breathed new life into this modernist icon.

Lake Michigan, Solstice, and the Museum of Science and Industry

The view from #EcoRenovate Elemental Green


The #EcoRenovate penthouse boasts sweeping, inspiring views of Hyde Park, the Chicago Skyline, and Lake Michigan. And, the neighborhood of Hyde Park is not without its own esteem. Right next door, environmental and design enthusiasts can explore the beautiful gothic campus of the University of Chicago with modern additions from Eero Saarinen, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Netsch, Ricardo Netsch, Studio Gang, Helmut Jahn, César Pelli, and others. The campus also contains the Frederick C. Robie house by Frank Lloyd Wright, who famously used materials that ground his buildings to the earth and architectural details that celebrate natural light. Studio Gang’s Solstice in the Park can be seen from the bedrooms as it overlooks the future home of the Obama Library by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Architects and the only surviving building from the the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition which now houses the Museum of Science and Industry.

Also close by stands the Ellis Passivhaus, Illinois’ First Passivhaus Institut Certified Building. which maximizes energy and sustainability measures, including reducing CO2 emissions from 212,908 pounds per year to 10,350 pounds per year. Of note, Kasemsarn also served as the architect of record for the Passivhaus, so we knew our sustainable renovation was in good hands.

I.M. Pei’s Modernist Legacy Lives On In This Eco Renovation

I.M. Pei’s Modernist Legacy Lives On In This Eco Renovation

I.M. Pei and Araldo Cossutta’s modernist architecture extended to Hyde Park, Chicago in 1961 with the design of the now-historic University Park Condominium. Elemental Green enlisted local architect Richard Kasemsarn to help give one of the penthouse units a green makeover while staying true to its modernist beginnings.

read more
I.M. Pei and Araldo Cossutta were great contributors to the end of the high period of the Modern movement and this building embodies a lot of those ideas while still being sympathetic to more traditional materials like brick, which lines the majority of the lower level of the complex.
Richard Kasemsarn


Archival Photo of University Park Condominium Chicago, Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

University Park Condo Buildings and shopping center under Construction. View looking west along 55th Street at South Lake Park Avenue in 1961. University of Chicago Special Collections [apf2-03954], Courtesy Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Project Name



Hyde Park, Chicago


To sustainably renovate a penthouse unit while remaining true to its 1960s modernist roots

Year of Completion



Our first renovation space began with the kitchen. The penthouse came with a kitchen closed off to the main living space, making it feel small and dark. During #EcoRenovate, we demolished two of the walls to open up the space and brighten it, allowing natural light to flood in from the living room’s expansive bay of windows and extending the social space of the adjoining living room.

French Cabinetry fabricated custom-designed cabinets and a moveable island on casters using Amber Edge Plyboo, a sustainable and eco-friendly architectural bamboo product. And Fireclay Tile furnished eye-catching handmade tiles for the kitchen flooring and backsplash. (The latter comprises Fireclay’s Maze tiles, whose patterns evoke vintage records—a nod to Chicago’s pioneering place in music history. But more on that later.)

The California-based artisanal tile brand also provided wall tiles for the guest bath and master bath, which were both retrofitted and designed around Lake Michigan-inspired color stories. Plyboo bamboo reappeared throughout, this time underfoot as flooring connecting the living and dining areas to the primary bedroom. Sustainable furnishings from Sabai (the sofa) and Avocado Green Mattress (the nontoxic bed) provide a healthy place for worry-free rest and relaxation.


Elemental Green #EcoRenovate Sustainable Kitchen Renovation University Park Condominium

After Kitchen and Bath Photos by Jill Tiongco Photography

Elemental Green #EcoRenovate Sustainable Kitchen Renovation University Park Condominium
Elemental Green #EcoRenovate Sustainable Bathroom Renovation University Park Condominium
Elemental Green #EcoRenovate Sustainable Bathroom Renovation University Park Condominium

We’re thrilled that #EcoRenovate has attracted exceptional sustainable brands such as Fireclay Tile, Recolor paints, Dekton by Cosentino, Avocado, Sabai, Chairish Earth Weave, and French Cabinetry. Learn more about our sponsors and design partners throughout the #EcoRenovate journey. 

Recolor Paint Cans with paintbrush
Education, getting the word out there, showing people the application is crucial. Sometimes the picture is worth a thousand words. People need to see the finished product.
Tania Keeble

Co-Founder, Recolor Paints

Photo of Recolor paint cans Elemental Green

Sustainable Renovations Can Happen Everywhere

“There are incredible brands out there who are embracing and driving sustainability—in the materials they’re using, the products they’re manufacturing, in their own environmentally and socially responsible supply chains and business practices. You no longer have to sacrifice style and budget to create a healthy home,” Foster says. “We’re proud to have some of these leading sustainability brands joining Elemental Green on the #EcoRenovate journey,” including Fireclay Tile, Recolor paints, Dekton by Cosentino, Avocado Green Mattress, Sabai, Earth Weave, Plyboo, The Shade Store, French Cabinetry, and Signa System window retrofitters.

Whether you live in a condo, house or townhome in an urban, suburban or rural setting, we hope you’ll be able to discover new products and glean inspiration and sustainable renovation ideas from #EcoRenovate.


Follow along with #EcoRenovate on Elemental Green and our social media platforms (InstagramFacebookLinkedInPinterest, and Twitter) and watch the eco-friendly renovation come to life through video walkthroughs and product unboxings! Browse this page to check out the before and after photography, Q+As with Sheridan Foster and Richard Kasemsarn, and the stories behind each material choice and the brands that produce them. Step inside as we bring this 1960s apartment into a sustainable future!


Plyboo Bamboo Flooring & Trim Molding

Plyboo Bamboo Flooring & Trim Molding

Why Bamboo From a forestry standpoint, bamboo can be grown with no added fertilizers, pesticides or irrigation and can sequester up to 70% more carbon per year than a hardwood forest. Moso bamboo has an optimal five-year growth cycle and is selectively harvested by...

read more
Plyboo Bamboo Plywood, Dimensional Lumber, and Veneer

Plyboo Bamboo Plywood, Dimensional Lumber, and Veneer

For furniture, wall paneling, and cabinetry, Plyboo bamboo plywood, veneer, and dimensional lumber are as versatile as they are functional. Smith & Fong's long-term commitment to the Earth embraces bamboo as a global environmental solution. Sustainable forestry,...

read more

If you have products or services that you would like to showcase as part of future #EcoRenovate series or would like to explore a partnership with Elemental Green, contact us at partners@elemental.green. 

Copyright © 2022 ElementalGreen® and Contributors

ElementalGreen and the logo are registered trademarks of ElementalGreen

Need some inspiration?

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive our free ebook “Why Go Green"

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest