Located in Chicago, IL, the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building recently underwent a major renovation — with 78 bathrooms completely redone on over 39 tenant-occupied floors. The end result of this almost-two-year process reveals cleanly designed bathrooms that shine. But there is more to this bathroom than what it seems. These “new” bathrooms have been constructed of the same materials that were installed in 1974. The recycled content tiles that now clad the bathroom floors and walls were manufactured from the porcelain of the original bathroom fixtures.

David Kite of Cannon Design in Chicago, IL, was responsible for the design of the renovation. He explained that the design goal was “to create interior experiences within the building core that reflected the quality, modernist design and planar geometries of the iconic Mies Van Der Rohe building.” He continued, “Overall, the interior renovation project was part of a complete building infrastructure and sustainable design to reposition the building for the next 50 years.”

“The project was a GSA [General Services Administration] ‘Design Excellence’ project, which meant that it would undergo serious scrutiny in the design stages from peer A&D firms before the final sustainable plan would be approved,” explained Heidi Vassalotti of Crossville, Inc. in Crossville, TN, the tile manufacturer approached to supply tiles for this project. Before any plans in the design could be made, the architectural team really needed to wrap their heads around how to create the most sustainable design to meet the GSA’s sustainability guidelines and performance requirements. “One of the biggest challenges was the scope, which was simply mechanicals and renovation for ADA compliance,” added Vassalotti.

Time to make the tiles

When the time had come to decide which tiles would be the most sustainable for this project, the team at Crossville, Inc. had to really scratch their heads. “The back story to this is actually quite interesting. What started as a standard conversation about the sustainable attributes of Crossville’s existing recycled content tile lines took on quite a twist,” said Vassalotti.

Cannon Design’s team was heavily involved in the early planning stages of the custom-tile production and led these conversations. “While many other tiles were initially considered, once the concept of the potential repurposing of the porcelain material was confirmed and could be integrated in creating a new product, the selection was clear,” said Kite.

Applying the concept of the tile manufacturer’s new tile-recycling program, “Tile Take,” the team at Cannon Design and Crossville, Inc. decided that the existing toilets would be recycled into tiles for the bathroom renovation. “In short, Cannon needed to put ‘sustainability on steroids,’ as I like to call it,” said Vassalotti. The toilets from the building in Chicago were sent to Crossville’s plant in Tennessee, where they were grinded down into a fine powder and then made into tiles. Made from 200,000 pounds of porcelain material, over 57,000 square feet of clean and modern-looking tile was used for the renovation. “The resultant was a tile that represented the clean, minimalist aesthetic desired as well as translating a unique sustainable story for the project,” said Kite.

The installation

The installation of the tile work was headed by Ruben Avecedo, Project Manager at Trostrud Mosaic & Tile Co., Inc. of Wood Dale, IL. To keep the building operating, the work on the bathrooms was done at night. “We were working approximately 18 men at one time in six toilet rooms and prepping the toilet rooms ahead,” explained Avecedo, adding that the prep work included smoothing the surfaces to be retiled. “All the subfloors were scarified and the high spots were ground down,” added Avecedo.

The smoothing and measuring portion of the job was what posed a challenge to the installers. “Our biggest challenge was to set our floor finish height to an exact determined height to within an approximate 1/8 inch,” Avecedo said. “Gavin Collier, our head tile setter, needed to laser set our ‘spots’ in order to build accurate height screeds to float the floors. This was done in order to have a finished floor height that would allow the other finish trades to line up with the ‘roughed in’ carpentry and steel that was installed prior to use.

“This design required a large portion of the toilet room build out dimensions to be driven by our tile grid and layout,” he continued. “The ceiling height, glass panel wall seams, toilet partitions and other miscellaneous points, all fell on a full tile grout joint. This accuracy is very difficult to achieve, and only with top-quality craftsmen like Gavin Collier — along with his coordination with other trades — could this have been accomplished.”

Kite also added, “In particular for this modernist building, the sense of absolute, refined detailing, joint alignment between various surfaces and highest quality finish for the planar design were critical elements.”

Mapelastic AquaDefense from Mapei was used to waterproof the floors, and the drains were flashed with Mapeband, also from Mapei, and the change-of-plane surfaces were reinforced with their fabric. “We recently started using the AquaDefense and have had good results,” said Avecedo. “The product dries quickly and is easy to apply, and it also allows you to water test in 12 hours.”

Thin-set mortar, Ultraflex LFT by Mapei, was the used on the floor and wall tile installations. “This mortar has filled a vacuum that was created by the recent trend of large-format tile,” said Avecedo, when explaining why they chose this mortar for the large 24- x 24-inch floor tiles. “We were running into curing time issues with large-format tiles being installed with medium-bed mortars on a waterproof membrane. The Ultraflex LFT mortar is a medium-bed mortar that spreads nicely and cures to allow you to grout the tile within a reasonable amount of time.”

The walls of the bathroom are clad with 12- x 24-inch porcelain tiles. The mortar used for this also had to be considered carefully. “This mortar has non-sag properties that we prefer over other mortars,” said Avecedo.

As time is very important on most tile installation sites, the entire installation was grouted with Ultracolor hydraulic grout from Mapei. “This grout cures quickly, making the sequence of our work flow smoothly,” added Avecedo.

At the end of a 19-month-long installation, the John C. Kluczynski Building now has completely remodeled bathrooms with sustainability that exceeds all expectations. “The resulting design leveraged spaces that engage thousands of people every day, with a high-quality design solution that is impactful, respectful and repositions the building well into the future,” said Kite. This year, the project won “Best in Show for an Institutional Remodel” at the Coverings PROJECT: Green competition. “Again, to the credit of the sustainability movement — pioneered by the architectural community — it won’t stop there,” said Vassalotti. “The bar continues to be raised. Recycled content is a given. Now the industry is asking we focus on the bigger picture — to look at the overall process and environmental
and health impact. This is very exciting.”


Installation Details
Installer: Trostrud Mosaic & Tile Co., Inc., Wood Dale, IL
Tile Manufacturer/Supplier: Crossville, Inc., Crossville, TN
Installation Products: Mapelastic AquaDefense, Ultraflex LFT — both from Mapei, Deerfield Beach, FL
Number of Installers: approximately 18 working
on 6 bathrooms at one time
Installation Time: 19 months