By Shermakaye Bass

The New “Chicago School”? Mayor Richard Daley claims the Second City will soon be America’s 1st city when it comes to green building in America.

chicago-ctr-for-green-technology.jpgThe City of Big Shoulders is already a city of big buildings, big design, big ambitions, a city whose contributions to American architecture are rivaled only by the Big Apple. Over the past century and a half, Chi-Town has produced design innovators like William Le Baron Jenney (“father of the skyscraper,” 1832-1907) and Daniel Burnham (the circa 1890s Reliance Building – precursor to the modern glass-and-steel high rise), as well as demi-gods Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and Mies van der Rohe. Collectively, this pantheon made their hometown one of the world’s great architectural gems.

Those guys probably would be green with envy if they could see their city now, as it continues to nudge new design frontiers, making the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines a priority.

According to multiple sources, Chicago is among the three greenest-built cities in America, with 28 LEED-approved buildings – behind Seattle and Portland, which have 32 each – and its leaders claim it has the most ongoing LEED projects in the world. When the city hosted the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in November, it made no bones about its goal to overtake the field of green design. Indeed, with typical chutzpa, the bustling hub let it be known that, in terms of sustainable design and city planning, it intends to lead the way in the United States.

Slideshow: Chicago’s Green Skyline

Featuring a keynote speech by former President Bill Clinton, who announced a joint project between the Clinton Foundation and the City of Chicago (to retrofit the Sears Tower, the Merchandise Mart and a multi-unit housing structure), the 5th annual expo further underscored Chicago’s intentions, putting its best foot forward with daily green-architecture tours to supplement the conference’s educational sessions.

“Chicago has always led by example when it comes to protecting the environment,” Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley said at a press conference with the President on Nov. 7. “The Clinton Climate Initiative will play a major role in helping us reach our goal in making Chicago the most environmentally friendly city in the country.”

But, exactly how will Chicago achieve its goal of dominating this most recent architectural frontier? And just how far along is it in its quest?