Oregon Sustainability Center

building partnerships : advancing best practices : creating green jobs

Ready, Set, Slam


Presentations by a wild salmon, Professor Moss, and a 5-month-old baby girl; a group-wide sing-a-long to What a Wonderful World; subgroups calling themselves U.G.W.U.G. (“u get what u get”), EN-TREE (Ecologically Nourishing Tower Restoring the Environment Earth-wide), and Dark Sacred Nights…

If this Monday’s kick off to the Oregon Sustainability Center’s week-long eco-charrette and technical design session was any indication of how the rest of the week will go, it’s safe to say that the 60+ participants will be engaged with open minds, fresh ideas, and a healthy dose of humor.

All of which will come in handy. Jokes aside, the five-day intensive, hosted by Gerding Edlen Development and facilitated by Green Building Services, is designed to capture a large volume of critical information from the OSC consultants and partners in a very short, fast-paced, highly productive period of time.

By week’s end the group – which extends beyond the core project team to include finance experts, chemical engineers, policy makers, professors, students, and others – will have covered topics as varied as the Center’s overarching design vision, methods for achieving net-zero energy and water, and what it means to program life, work, and on-going research into a living building’s day-to-day. The full agenda for the week is posted here.

Monday, however, was all about setting the tone. First, a Commitment to Collaboration, (with tenets such as “Engage with an open mind… Listen, then respond… No filters, let it flow”). Next, reviews of eco-districts and the Living Building Challenge, followed by a spirited presentation by Seattle-based Judith Heerwagen, PhD., author of Biophilic Design: Theory, Research and Practice (2007), and a consultant on the social impacts of sustainable design. Her advice: when building new habitat, first take the time to “know your animal”.

And then came the Slam. Eight small groups formed at separate tables, armed with trace paper, flip charts, markers, site plans, a hard copy of the Living Building Challenge, and a futuristic RFP from 2059. The charge: design a 250,000 square foot office building with the following requirements:

Exceed the Living Building Challenge
NO mechanical HVAC systems
NO plumbing
NO electric lighting
ONLY natural materials
Oh, and…design it in less than an hour.

The groups were told from the beginning to “think outside of everything” they knew, and so they did. Up came buildings shaped like trees and fish, with living skins, green roofs, wind turbines, composting toilets, and stormwater/greywater treatment systems that provided clean water for the rest of the city. Buildings were drawn that shut down at sunset, forcing workers to go home. Others rotated slowly, chasing the sun. Lighting was designed to come from phosphorescent creatures, and a debate ensued over which team owned the rights to the process of capillary exchange as it applied to a building’s heating, cooling, and water use.

It is not likely that any of these designs will make it into the final drawings of the true Oregon Sustainability Center. But that was not the point.

“The purpose of today was to cut you loose of your preconceived notions, to really get you thinking in a new way for the rest of the session,” said facilitator Ralph DiNola of Green Building Services, as he wrapped up the day. “The important work comes with the rest of the week, but don’t forget the ideas of this first day, don’t get out of this mode.”

They’ve cut loose, and they’re in the mode. The work has only just begun. It’s going to be an interesting week, indeed. Stay tuned.

(And in the meantime, some shots from the day’s events are below.)


Ready, set, slam: work groups tear into the RFP.


The sketching begins.


Jennifer Allen of Portland State University.


Charrette facilitators Amanda Ryan, Ralph DiNola, and Terry Miller (not pictured: Alan Scott).


The winning team, Earth Bound, preparing the final presentation.


Tilt it sideways, and it’s shaped like a fish!


Clark Brockman of SERA with the tools of the trade.


Tom Liptan of the Bureau of Environmental Services holds up the first draft while Kathryn Krygier adds to draft #2.


Dark Sacred Nights…


Wee 1 decompresses after her presentation to the group. Her message was clear: the Portland Development Commission doesn’t own the site for the building, we’re borrowing it from Wee 1 and her generation. So we’d better get things right.

(all photos: Eugénie Frerichs)


Filed under: Project History

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