Inside Metro Edge Development Partners’ IMD1 Data Center

By: Mia Goulart | RE Journals

Chicago Industrial Properties: What inspired the decision to build the IMD1 Data Center in the Illinois Medical District, and how does it align with the company’s vision for the community? 

Metro Edge Development Partners: In 2020, Metro Edge met with Rush University Medical Center, one of the primary hospitals in the Illinois Medical District (IMD), to discuss the mission-critical technology needs of the 40 healthcare organizations within the IMD. The IMD spans 560 acres and is a long-established hub of healthcare, medical research facilities, and biotech incubators in Chicago.  As the IMD’s exclusive data center, IMD1 appeals to Chicago’s healthcare institutions by offering significant cost savings, the highest levels of cyber security, essential technology upgrades, energy efficiency, physical proximity (leading to low latency) and community impact.

Metro Edge and local community leaders have a shared vision for improving the community on the West Side of Chicago. In addition to the enormous economic value created by a new $250 million data center development, Metro Edge believes IMD1 will be the first step in transforming the currently vacant corridor into a vibrant neighborhood, as data centers must evolve from being simply located “in the community” to being part “of the community.” To lead this effort, Metro Edge will launch a multifaceted social impact program designed to address the inequities in underserved communities by providing data center employment opportunities and higher-quality Wi-Fi options for employees and visitors to the IMD.

Chicago Industrial Properties: Can you explain the unique security challenges faced due to the constrained site and how the design team addressed them while maintaining aesthetics? 

Metro Edge Development Partners: One of the design team’s unique challenges was designing the data center to fit the IMD’s design guidelines. Security challenges arose from the IMD’s fencing height restrictions and requirements for a glass entrance on the ground level to allow transparency along the public sidewalks. The team addressed these challenges with aesthetic hardscaping in the form of trees and robust sitting walls with reinforced foundations. The sitting/security walls are reinforced concrete barriers that would have a brick or stone veneer attached to blend in with the landscape/building. These reinforced concrete barriers are highly-rated crash barricades that protect the building better than traditional fencing. 

Other security features include: the brick exterior walls on the ground floor are backed with a 12-inch CMU reinforced wall, interior and exterior surveillance panoramic sensor dome cameras with a full 360-degree view of the property, a state-of-the-art security monitoring system, 24/7 security team on-site, with multiple levels of strict access control including entry gates, security checkpoints and biometric or card-based authentication systems.

Thanks to Chicago police and the multiple hospital/campus security teams, the IMD has significantly lower property crime rates than the rest of Chicago and the United States.

Chicago Industrial Properties: The IMD1 Data Center has a different layout than typical data centers, with the main infrastructure on the first floor and data halls on the upper floors. What led to this design choice, and what benefits does it bring to the project? 

Metro Edge Development Partners: In Downtown Chicago, where land is at a premium, vertical data centers are necessary to properly serve downtown customers with a reduced building footprint. Metro Edge will be only the second purpose-built data center in Chicago, with the majority of downtown facilities within repurposed buildings. The benefits of a vertical data center design include power density efficiency (“watts per acre”), energy efficiency, improved airflow, and certain end-users prefer the vertical design for artificial intelligence use.

Chicago Industrial Properties: How did Metro Edge and the design team work to ensure that the data center’s design blends seamlessly with the neighborhood and community? What elements were essential in achieving this? 

Metro Edge Development Partners: Most data centers look like concrete bunkers and the IMD was not interested in an industrial facade. Our design team is led by Corgan, the highest-ranked data center architect in the U.S., with over 30 million square feet of data center space completed. We leveraged their expertise and creativity, and Corgan and our engineers studied the IMD’s guidelines. They drew inspiration from other modern vertical data centers (such as Georgia Tech’s Data Center) and various buildings within the IMD (such as Rush Hospital’s new Cancer Center). Essential elements included the tall glass façade lobby on the prominent corner of Hastings and Damen, hiding the equipment yard, truck dock, parking area away from Damen Street, and metal panels, lighting, and brick to achieve a timeless but modern look.

Chicago Industrial Properties: Your website mentions considering glass as a prominent design feature initially. Can you elaborate on why it was ruled out in favor of security, and how the final design balances aesthetics and security?  

Metro Edge Development Partners: Ultimately, the glass façade for the entire data center would be cost-prohibitive, and we decided to allocate more of the budget to the building’s security. Glass is typically great for natural light, but this was a curtain glass that only covered the more rigid building shell. Floors 2-5 are dedicated to data hall, which can’t have windows due to environmental control and physical security. Our civil engineers at Kimley-Horn did a first-rate job of balancing aesthetics and security with the landscaping and sitting wall we previously mentioned.

Chicago Industrial Properties: Could you describe the design development process, including the number of concept iterations and the key factors that influenced the selection of the “Pixel” design option? 

Metro Edge Development Partners: We had many creative sessions with Corgan and our construction team before they sent us five design “finalists” (below). From these five, we selected Pixel for its simplicity, timelessness, security, and costs. Pixel’s large front face also resembled a “blank canvas” with many options for lighting, building materials, night effects, etc. Corgan then created variations of Pixel until our team selected the current design.  

Chicago Industrial Properties: The final design incorporates a mix of building materials, including bricks, metal panels, and glazing. Can you share how these materials were chosen and what role they play in achieving the desired look and feel of the data center?  

Metro Edge Development Partners: This mix of building materials is the optimal balance of aesthetics, security, and costs. The brick-reinforced concrete and metal paneling portray an image of “strong security,” one of our highest priorities for our customers. As you approach the building’s entrance, you’re greeted by a welcoming and spacious lobby area, where the use of glazing allows for natural light into our front desk and customer’s office space. Metro Edge and the IMD wanted an appealing entrance and lobby on the corner of Damen instead of the unpleasant “concrete bunkers” we’re used to seeing for data centers.  We believe the metal paneling is visually pleasing, textured, sleek, polished, and durable exterior.  The metal panels will be meticulously designed to create an artistic play of light and shadow as the day unfolds.

Chicago Industrial Properties: The use of exterior lighting to give the building a pulse and celebrate local events is intriguing. Could you explain more about this lighting concept, its programming, and how it enhances the community-focused design? 

Metro Edge Development Partners: You have described the purpose of the exterior lighting perfectly—give the building a pulse and enhance the community-focused design. The exterior LED lighting will interact with Chicago culture, like turning green for St. Patrick’s Day and supporting our professional sports teams with orange and blue for Bears’ wins.

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