A far cry from the kitschy memorabilia of the Rock ’n’ Roll-themed building it replaces, the essentially all-new design of River North’s flagship McDonalds at 600 N. Clark Street in Chicago is finally starting to come together.

At its heart is an innovative construction material known as Cross Laminated Timber. In line with the fast food brand’s plan to reinvent its image, the sustainable building method is being employed for the first time in a commercial project in Chicago.

“One way to think about it is plywood on steroids,” Chicago-based designer Carol Ross Barney of Ross Barney Architects told Curbed Chicago. “It’s formed from smaller sized pieces of timber glued together for uniform strength.

“CLT is versatile, and because the wood can be harvested and renewed at a more regular interval, it has a relatively low carbon footprint. You can use it like any panelized material such as precast concrete or steel. Here we’re using it as a deck structure.”

The choice to use timber came early in the process when McDonald’s first engaged Barney’s firm with the goal of design authenticity. “Some of the most durable materials aren’t very authentic,” explained the architect. “And some of the most authentic materials don’t hold up over time. CLT offers a great deal of both while reflecting the client’s commitment to sustainability.”

As for the large hole seen in the center of the CLT deck? Here Ross Barney Architects and restaurant interior design specialist Landini Associates plan a suspended, drop-down apple orchard designed by Omni Ecosystems.

“The goal was to show the relationship between food and the physical act of growing,” explained Barney. “While the fruit won’t be used in the actual restaurant itself, guests will still be able to see apples grow and form the visual connection.

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