First Look: Chicago Plumbers Invest in Training Facility That Celebrates People, Process, Place
Grant Uhlir and Scott Hurst in Chicago, Education, Education Design, Training Facility

Rendering © Gensler. This view from Washington Street shows the facility’s perforated, copper-anodized façade, an allusion to copper pipes used for plumbing.

Gensler’s design for the Chicago Plumbers Local 130 Joint Apprenticeship Committee Training Facility celebrates people (journeymen and apprentice plumbers), place (the City of Chicago) and process (by teaching and demonstrating cutting-edge water conservation technologies). The facility is located in the heart of a collection of union halls and offices at the far end of the West loop known as “Teamster City.”

The architecture will showcase an element typically hidden in buildings: plumbing. A state-of-the-art learning center that incorporates technologies such as greywater harvesting and solar-vacuum-tube water heaters, the building won’t simply include emerging technologies; it will highlight them in unexpected places, such as the lobby. In this building, the mechanical rooms aren’t tucked away; they are the showpieces.

Rendering © Gensler. This view from the administrative offices reveals a copper-pipe wall to the right and a glass wall towards reception at the left.

Building as Learning Lab

Transparency is a key theme in the building. Walls that would normally be opaque are clear, so people can see the plumbing working inside. A glass-enclosed mechanical room showcases rainwater harvesting, water recirculation and grey water systems.

Classrooms used to teach plumbing code and theory incorporate wet labs and moveable furniture, so apprentices can learn by doing. “Hot works” classrooms provide places to learn welding, cutting, soldering and brazing to prepare the students for the various aspects of on-the job conditions. A three-story workshop includes a wood-frame model home and an underground pit, which will simulate underground plumbing construction. These unique educational spaces enable apprentices to apply and test concepts learned in the classroom in a real-life scenario.

Rendering © Gensler. The window in the Washington Street façade highlights the multi-purpose room, where the union will host events that highlight the latest plumbing technologies.

Chicago Proud

The project’s location in the City of Chicago, rather than its suburbs, is a direct reflection of the union’s commitment to the city. To celebrate its location, the design team designed locations of windows to frame and capture views of iconic Chicago sites, including the Willis Tower, United Center and First Baptist Congregational Church. The roof deck, where plumbers can both learn from rooftop water technology and host special events amidst the green roof, features stunning views of the Chicago skyline.

The material palette is based on the materials plumbers use in their trade: copper and steel feature prominently throughout the design. In addition to the copper-anodized façade, black horizontal ribbing on the north façade of the building alludes to black stacked pipes. The building’s lobby celebrates the tradition of plumbing innovation in Chicago, showcasing historic plumbing technology.

Pride in its people, its place, and its processes is at the core of the union’s culture. Classes of apprentices become lifelong friends and companions, united by a learning experience and social bond. This facility will celebrate them, and create a place where generations of journeymen and apprentices can come together to honor their shared trade.

Grant Uhlir is a principal and co-managing director of Gensler’s Chicago office. Grant is president of AIA Chicago Foundation’s Board of Trustees, and he is also a member of the Economic Club of Chicago the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, and a product council member with ULI Chicago. Contact him at
Scott Hurst is a senior designer and senior associate at Gensler Chicago, and his design work has been featured in publications including Interior Design, The Journal of Architectural Education and Wired. Outside of the office, Scott is a proud contributor to the ACE mentor program, Chicago Loop Alliance, Urban Land Institute and the Ronald McDonald House. Contact him at Scott
Article originally appeared on architecture and design (
See website for complete article licensing information.