Oregon Sustainability Center

building partnerships : advancing best practices : creating green jobs

Why not?

Turnout was high at last Friday’s eco-charrette Open House, and so was the curiosity, as dozens of visitors – including Mayor Sam Adams – studied the collection of sketches and notes that were on view.


There was no building to unveil, and only one model (by THA Architecture) – a modest 3D basswood construction of the SW Portland neighborhood where the Oregon Sustainability Center could one day stand. At the corner of SW 5th and Montgomery, the model showed nothing. Just a white open space, an empty square that barely interrupted the east/west expanse of vegetation that marked Montgomery’s future as a green street.

Fitting, this blank space, for all of its potential. And inspiring, too, knowing that last week’s gathering of some of the region’s most well-versed experts in sustainable design was dedicated solely to filling this blank space.

Scanning the graphic illustrations that lined the room of the Open House, each overflowing with declarations and large, sweeping question marks, it was clear that the charrette succeeded in at least one of its objectives: to challenge assumptions, provoke, and ask more questions than provide answers.


Now comes the hard part, distilling these questions down to what Ralph DiNola of Green Building Services described as the OSC’s “basis of design”.


Some of the more salient points from the week, that will help to inform this basis of design, include:

Design Vision

  • What makes a building iconic?
  • Does this building need to be iconic?
  • What makes a building timeless?
  • What makes a building from this place?
  • How do we take advantage of the unique characteristics of the site?
  • How can all of the building systems be combined to create an integrated, elegant design?
  • How do we design a building today that is forward thinking in its design, anticipating strategies and technologies that will be available in two years and beyond?


  • How will the entire bioregion – not just Portland – experience the OSC?
  • How will the OSC transform its visitors and occupants?
  • Knowing that the Living Building Challenge requires proactive behavior from the building occupants in order to be successful, how can we encourage shifts in human behavior, and then positively reinforce them?


  • How will the OSC maximize its function as a Living Laboratory?
  • What research opportunities can the OSC offer in terms of both information gathering and scientific research?
  • What information can we start to gather now, and what information will we want to gather later (thereby influencing the design of the building now)? [This includes researching “hardware” (materials, technologies) vs. “software” (processes, methods, practices for integrating materials and technologies) vs. “peopleware” (how occupants and neighbors interact with the building).]

Materials, Energy & Water

  • How will the building’s envelope harness energy/rainwater/habitat, and how will it connect its occupants to the outdoors?
  • How can we maximize passive energy sources?
  • Is it sustainable for every building to harness and reuse its own rainwater, or can we think of the building’s water use and re-use on the scale of an eco-district or watershed?

These are but a few of the myriad questions that were deliberated throughout the week.


Mayor Sam Adams (right) with Rob Bennett of P+OSI.

No less provocative was a vision set forth by the Mayor when he spoke briefly to the crowd gathered last Friday. Noting the significance of the OSC for its potential to reinforce Portland’s position as one of the most sustainable cities in the United States, Adams suggested perhaps aiming higher. Why not strive to become one of the most sustainable cities in the world?

Now that’s a good question. Last Friday, at least, with the afterglow from the week’s creative marathon still buzzing around the room, striving to become the most sustainable city in the world didn’t really feel all that far from reach. So…why not?

(all photos by Eugénie Frerichs)


Filed under: Project History

2 Responses

  1. […] the Greenest of Buildings By Libby Tucker Oregon Sustainability Center Team members scribbled ideas for a new sustainability center at a meeting in Portland last […]

  2. […] revisiting the OSC’s top five guiding principles, which emerged from the design charrette held in early April, and reviewing the building site within its greater context of the PSU campus, […]

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