Photos courtesy of McDonald's and Ross Barney Architects

Making Fast Food Earth Friendly: McD’s Adds CLT to Its Menu of Materials

For its latest Chicago-based flagship restaurant, the three-quarters-of-a-century old fast-food chain is shaking off its once plastic-clad bright colored interiors for an exposed wood and timber design, along with more sustainable, naturally hued materials.


Project Details

In the 2016 biopic, The Founder, McDonald’s restaurant co-founder Ray Kroc, played by veteran actor Michael Keaton, asks Maurice McDonald what the Golden Arches are for. McDonald’s answer was simple: “It’s a way to make the place stand out.” More than 75 years later, McDonald’s is continuing to find ways to stand out, this time through the unprecedented use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) in their Chicago-based restaurant at River North on Clark and Ontario Street. It will be the first commercial use of CLT in the Windy City and is part of global fast food chain’s efforts to continually adapt and reinvent its image, to meet the changing tastes of its customers. The newly renovated restaurant replaces previous Rock ’n’ Roll memorabilia-themed building with a more environmentally-friendly design and enhanced customer experience with self-order kiosks, table service, mobile order, payment, and delivery.

Wood Use

The 19,000-square-foot steel and wood timber building prominently features exposed CLT throughout. The choice to use timber came early in the process with the goal being “design authenticity” with Carol Ross Barney of Ross Barney Architects explaining that some durable materials aren’t very authentic or sustainable. Research has shown that materials such as concrete, steel and heavy plastics have a larger carbon footprint than renewable materials, such as wood. CLT offers a great alternative, Ross Barney explains, because the wood can be harvested and renewed at a more regular interval, it has a relatively low carbon footprint, and you can use it like any panelized material such as precast concrete or steel.

Environmental Impact

In addition to the use of CLT, the restaurant features more than 70 trees at ground level, a vegetated roof space and a floating glass garden of ferns and white birch trees. The roofs feature edible plants including apple trees that will be harvested and donated to the Ronald McDonald House. Native and drought resilient plants are being used throughout the landscape along with permeable pavers for the lot surface to minimize irrigation and reduce storm water runoff. The restaurant will benefit from enhanced energy performance with an on-site solar panel array for renewable energy collection to offset part of the restaurant’s non-renewable energy consumption; interior and exterior LED lighting; and energy efficient kitchen and HVAC equipment including energy saving freezer/coolers, low oil fryers, energy efficient fans and more.