Oregon Sustainability Center

building partnerships : advancing best practices : creating green jobs

Solving the Programming Puzzle


Whether it concerns people, agencies, or physical spaces, defining needs and mapping relationships are critical to the programming process.

In the simplest of terms, the “programming” for a new building is a statement of its needs: what does it need to provide, how much should it cost, and, from there, how big should it be.

The programming for the OSC, however, is far from simple. Unlike traditional projects, which determine a building’s size based largely on the client needs alone, the OSC comes with the added complexity of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), which states, in the simplest of terms, that in order to achieve certification, a project must be more than just a building. It needs to be alive.

Within the context of programming, the LBC prerequisite that most directly influences the project’s scale is Prerequisite #4, Net Zero Energy, which requires 100% of the building’s energy needs to be supplied by on-site renewable energy on a net annual basis.

The OSC’s program, then, must evolve in tandem with the development of the building’s energy strategy; taking into consideration how much energy the OSC will supply, and how much it will use.

The design team at GBD and SERA has been busy solving this programming puzzle for weeks. Working from the overriding premise that the OSC program must facilitate collaboration and community among tenants, the team has been gathering data on space and staffing needs from each individual tenant, first, and then vetting these needs for redundancies and inefficiencies relative to other tenants’ needs.

The building’s program must address the needs of three major tenant groups:

In addition to providing workspace for these groups, the project team envisions a series of shared program spaces:

  • A large conference center, classrooms and research facilities for hundreds of daily students and local and international visitors
  • A “Visualization Lab” (an interactive, 3D immersive environment designed with cutting edge graphic technologies)
  • A resource and exhibit center that highlights the region’s innovations in sustainability, showcases Oregon sustainable businesses, and draws attention to the building’s own features and innovations;
  • Retail space on the ground floor;
  • All of the building’s support spaces, including bike lockers and shower rooms, green spaces, the lobby, loading dock, common areas, and mechanical/electrical;
  • And, specific to the Living Building prerequisites for Water, space for a rainwater collection tank and a Living Machine wastewater treatment plant.

The team has assigned, revised, and re-assigned square footages for each of these components. Based on early calculations from a series of conceptual building models, it appears that the OSC program is on the “ragged edge” of fulfilling the dual objectives of meeting tenant needs and achieving net zero energy.

But there’s a catch: From the perspective of programming alone, the expressed needs of the OSC tenants adds up to a 260,000 square foot building.

From the perspective of achieving net zero energy, early modeling reveals that the building can effectively generate all of its needed energy on site if the building is scaled down to approximately 200,000 square feet.

Something’s got to give.

Either the tenant and shared spaces will need to shrink, or the surface area for the building’s photovoltaic panels will need to grow, overflowing, in one scenario, onto the roofs of neighboring parking structures.

Earlier this week, the core project team expressed a preference to cap the building’s total square footage to approximately 200,000 square feet, shifting the burden of net-zero energy to the tenants, who will need to adapt and modify their workspace practices in order to fit within the building’s energy strategy.

Fortunately, this call for workspace evolution runs parallel to a larger cultural trend.

“We’re right in the throes of this massive cultural shift in the way people communicate,” notes Phil Beyl of GBD Architects, “And [there is] a much more willing audience to sit close to one another and do your job, as opposed to needing a ten-by-ten cube.”

Thus the workspace shuffle has begun. In order to bring the total square footage down to its net zero sweet spot, the design team is digging deeper into the workspace allocations to see where even greater efficiencies can emerge. This has greater economic advantages, as well, yielding savings on rent wherever square footage can be reduced.

The final piece to the puzzle, however, will not fall into place until the building has opened its doors. As is the case with all aspects of the Living Building Challenge, the true success of the OSC ultimately relies on the user performance, its daily energy consumption determining whether the building really can successfully stay “alive”.

“I think probably the most important thing that we need to do,” says Beyl, “is to make the tenants feel really comfortable that they understand what life in the building is going to be like, and to prime them for how they might consider shifting, changing, modifying their work culture to ultimately thrive in this building.”

A half-day workshop with the OSC tenants – which will focus on just that – is scheduled for May 20th.

(Thank you to Phil Beyl at GBD for his significant input on this topic, and to Lucas Posada for the diagram.)


Filed under: Design Progress, Project History

One Response

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: