Oregon Sustainability Center

building partnerships : advancing best practices : creating green jobs

Executive Summary Now Available


The preliminary draft for the executive summary of the OSC feasibility study is now available for download and review. Click here for the complete PDF.


Filed under: Project History

Join Us : Open House June 25th


Filed under: Announcements, Project History

OSC Research : 90 Days Later and Beyond


The Window: part PV panel, part light shelf, part sun shade, the Window concept for the OSC is one example of a design that, with further research, could yield a successful integrated economic development strategy for the regional building industry.

For the Living Building Challenge, defining the problem is half of the solution. But three PSU students might tell you that defining the problem isn’t always easy.

These students helped the OSC research group with several items on their 90-day agenda, which aimed to answer the questions most pertinent to the feasibility study.

So what makes defining the problem so hard? For one, the students catalogued every ingredient on a list of 250 materials to see if they contained any items on the Living Building Challenge’s Red List. They weren’t finding alternatives to these materials, they were finding what they contained – an arduous task of poring over specifications, Material Safety Data Sheets, and a host of other sources.

They found that 25% of the 250 materials that the research group suspected actually contained one or more of the Red List chemicals. That’s about 63 materials for which the team will need to find an alternative.

But it doesn’t stop there.

As stipulated by the Living Building Challenge, the materials need to come from within the materials service radius. Once again, the students dove into the data, looking for companies within 250, 500 or 1000 miles that carry products needed to build the OSC.

And the number of usable materials crept even lower.

But knowing constraints often opens up the biggest opportunities. The research group constantly kept an eye out for opportunities to grow local business. Often enough, local businesses are making materials in the region, but use, say, urea formaldehyde in the process. So why not ask them to cut out the nasty chemicals and create a new market?

Or, businesses are making the perfect product, but they are based overseas. Why not suggest they open a manufacturing branch in Portland? Or even better, why not find a local entrepreneur to create an entirely new business to meet the need?

These are all questions posed by the OSC research group and illustrated by the students’ research. There is an ever-growing list of opportunities for growth and expansion that spans industries from solar to wood products to curtain-wall. Below are some examples of the opportunities identified:

  • Living Machines as a potable water strategy
  • Building Integrated Photovoltaics
  • Integrated PV, Light Shelf and Shading Devices
  • Integrated Box Beams that are structural and contain radiant heating and cooling, displacement ventilation, integrated data and electrical and fire sprinklers
  • Red List compliant replacements for products (e.g. PVC piping, electrical wiring sheathing, roofing, flooring)
  • Expanding the FSC supply chain for all the wood products used in buildings
  • Construction Carbon Footprint Calculator
  • A “Fractal Dashboard” that reports resource use at the building scale down to the individual scale
  • Occupant Behavior Modifier for Energy modeling software


The Box Beam: Dubbed the “seven-fer” for its ability to perform seven critical functions within a single design, the Box Beam concept – which emerged early in OSC brainstorming – is a pre-fabricated concrete form that could provide: Structure; Passive heating with the slab; Radiant heating and cooling; distribution for ventilation; Finished ceiling; Chase for data and cabling; Chase for fire sprinklers. It could also spur innovation in the regional economy by teaming existing pre-cast concrete manufacturers with radiant piping suppliers/manufacturers, data suppliers, cabling suppliers, and local expert green engineers (structural, mechanical and plumbing) to develop a new, replicable green building product.

Other more immediate tasks on the 90-day agenda included finding the projected increase in efficiency of PVs over the next two years (experts project about a 1-2% increase), finding weather station data to help inform mechanical and passive system design (thank you to David Sailor and the Broadway Building weather station), nearby parking garage energy use (no longer relevant with net-zero energy achieved on site, but much higher than expected) and analyzing the building’s optimization for daylighting (local expert G.Z. Brown recommends a “thin building” approach).

The research group has much to dig into over the summer. They’ve also developed a list of items for Oregon’s universities to tackle, including:

  • Low or no energy replacement for cement
  • Green roof product research
  • Measurement of green roof stormwater retention and quality
  • Measurement of green roof energy conservation
  • Laboratory measurement of green roof systems
  • Behavioral change to conserve energy
  • Human health metrics related to green building
  • EcoDistricts
  • Legal / condominium / governance issues that are unique to Living Buildings
  • Right sizing of water / energy / storm water strategies
  • Energy conservation strategies efficacy testing and metrics
  • Weather station data
  • Expanding the FSC supply chain for all wood products used
  • Construction carbon footprint calculator
  • Large scale renewable energy efficacy and metrics
  • Measurement and verification metrics
  • Occupant behavior modifier for energy modeling software (e.g. eQUEST)

If you have interest in contributing to any of the above research topics, join us at the Open House this coming Thursday, June 25th, from 5-7:30 pm at PSU’s Shattuck Hall Annex, where we will be discussing the project’s next steps in greater detail.

(Thank you to Liz Hopkins of the Portland+Oregon Sustainability Institute for submitting this post.)

Filed under: Project History, Research

Achieving Water Independence


Sketch of rainwater’s course through the OSC. Courtesy GBD.

“A Living Building is water independent.”

So says the Living Building Challenge (LBC), and so will be the Oregon Sustainability Center, employing water conservation measures that will complement a comprehensive rainwater collection system and an on-site sanitary wastewater treatment system, the Living Machine.

As with energy, water in the built environment is an ecological issue that demands significant attention from all new design. The LBC explains:

“Scarcity of clean potable water is quickly becoming a serious issue in many countries around the world. Most regions of the United States and Canada have avoided the majority of these limitations and problems to-date due to the presence of abundant fresh water, but highly unsustainable water use patterns and the continued draw-down of major aquifers portent significant problems ahead…

“The Living Building Challenge envisions a future whereby all buildings are designed to harvest sufficient water to meet the needs of occupants, while respecting the natural hydrology of the site, the water needs of neighbors and the ecosystem it inhabits. Indeed, water can be used and purified and then used again.”

Green Wall-source inhabitat-com

Example of a green wall, one potential stop for storm water on its path through a living building. Courtesy inhabitat.com.

With this in mind, the LBC has defined the following prerequisites for a Living Building’s water strategy:

  • Prerequisite 10 – Net Zero Water 100% of occupants’ water use must come from captured precipitation or closed loop water systems that account for downstream ecosystem impacts and that are appropriately purified without the use of chemicals.
  • Prerequisite 11 – Sustainable Water Discharge 100% of storm water and building water discharge must be managed on-site and integrated into a comprehensive system to feed the project’s demands.

Mt-Tabor-source-Kevin Robert Perry

Storm water flowing into a bioswale near Mt. Tabor (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy Kevin Robert Perry.

Given the rainy climate of the Pacific Northwest, water issues are of particular interest around here. According to the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services, it rains an average of 37 inches in Portland per year. This yields roughly 10 billion gallons of storm water runoff, the volume and speed of which leads to flooding, erosion, natural habitat destruction, and, potentially, combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

Such an abundance of rain feeds the regional misconception that water conservation issues are of a lesser concern, yet as the LBC points out, a lack of regard for water use today, coupled with the mistreatment of the water that does get used, is foreshadowing a significant environmental crisis just around the bend.

This challenge has driven the OSC team to commit to strategies to achieve net zero water that will in fact move the project much further, toward a goal of hydro equity, giving back to its local ecosystem clean water that it does not need.


The Oregon Road Map for Achieving Water Independence in Buildings (click to enlarge). This study was prepared by a team from Gerding Edlen Development, Central City Concern, SERA, and Interface Engineering, with funding by the Bullitt Foundation, Cascadia GBC, Enterprise Community Partners, and Portland Development Commission. You can find the complete report here.

Similar to the building’s strategy for net zero energy, the design team added water conservation measures first, incorporating into the basis of design the lowest flow fixtures available on the market today, most of which will be equipped with optical sensors.

To achieve net zero water, the building will collect rainwater for potable uses from the rooftops. As described in earlier posts, a 6,200 square foot bifacial photovoltaic (PV) array on the 4th floor of the building, and a 3,000 square foot bifacial PV array on the 3rd floor, will create a translucent canopy covering the OSC’s ground floor plaza. Organically shaped PV arrays will also top the building, once on the 10th floor, and a second time on the very top, adding another 18,400 square feet of impermeable surface.


Bird’s eye view of the OSC solar canopies (click to enlarge).

Collectively, the PV panels (along with other impermeable surfaces throughout the site) will double as rainwater collectors, sending the water into a 200,000-gallon epoxy lined waterproof concrete storage tank, which will be fitted with circulation pumps to circulate water within the tank, preventing stagnation. The rainwater will be treated via filters and a chlorine injection system before being pumped and/or circulated into a 500-gallon/day tank. A duplex pump system will draw from this day tank and deliver the treated rainwater for potable uses throughout the building.

South Waterfront-source Nevue Ngan Associates

Swales as part of the stormwater management plan for Portland’s South Waterfront. Photo courtesy Nevue Ngan Assoc.

On the ground level, porous pavement, vegetated planters, and bioswales will also contribute to the management of the storm water that is not captured by any of the rooftops. Together these features filter and slow the flow of rainwater as it makes it way back into the ground.

To address Prerequisite 11, Sustainable Water Discharge, the OSC design will incorporate an on-site sanitary sewer system that is known as a Living Machine, chosen both for its low energy use and derivation from biophilic design. Living machines mimic the natural cleansing processes of wetlands, employing plants, bacteria, algae and other organisms to do the hard work of filtering black water. The OSC’s system will include an initial screening and collection of solid materials from black water sources (ie. toilets) for use as compost and fertilizer for onsite landscaping. The treated effluent from the living machine will be reused for flushing toilets and urinals and at hose bibs.

Washington Mutual Green Roof -source Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

Green roof on a Washington Mutual building. Photo Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg.

All excess storm water and treated wastewater that is not used internally will be either infiltrated back into the soil on site, where it will replenish the groundwater supply, or it will be used to irrigate gardens and green roofs throughout the building. Ideally, the excess storm water will also be funneled back to the Montgomery Green Street for irrigation there, as well.

While the OSC itself will do the lion’s share of the work to achieve net zero water, through its extensive catchment and filtration systems, ultimate success still relies on the active participation of the tenants in the building. Metering the tenants’ use of water will be imperative, and the team is looking into metering systems for each office and retail space, to track usage on a daily, or even hourly, basis. Water bills will vary according to each tenants’ level of consumption.

But will that be enough? What if, as was discussed during one recent steering committee meeting, tenants had to swipe a card before using a toilet or urinal, so that every last drop of water consumed was tracked and accounted for?

Sounds crazy to some, but for others such a step would be prescient. Not long from now, will we have any other choice?

(Thank you Kevin Robert Perry of Nevue Ngan Associates for his help with gathering images.)

Filed under: Design Progress, Project History

Open House : June 25th : 5-7:30 pm

The feasibility phase of the Oregon Sustainability Center is drawing to a close.

Please join us at our Open House on Thursday, June 25th, to see presentations on the latest designs, and to discuss any and all questions you might have about the project’s past, present, and future.

Open House : Thursday, June 25th

5:00 – 7:30 pm

Portland State University Shattuck Hall Annex, 1914 SW Park Ave.

The formal presentation will begin at 5:30.

See you there!

Filed under: Announcements, Project History

The Path to Net Zero Energy


Ask Omid Nabipoor of Interface Engineering about energy strategies for a net zero building, and he’s likely to tell you first about a towel.

“Imagine you have a wet towel,” he’ll say, as he did last week during a meeting with OSC tenants, “and you are wringing it out, getting every last drop of water out of this towel.”

For emphasis, he gestures with his hands, twisting an invisible towel, and we imagine a stream of water – all the inefficiencies of a standard office building – spilling onto the floor.


(click on image to enlarge)

Sounds easy enough. Eliminate waste, first. Gone is the soggy (conventional office building) towel. Make note of the inefficiencies that comprise the puddle on the floor, and cut them from the building’s design.

Next, design the highest performing building envelope possible, relying on passive energy systems primarily, and the most highly efficient active energy systems where necessary, and hey presto…a well wrung-out towel becomes a net zero building?

Not quite, but it’s a good place to start.

With regard to the Living Building Challenge, the Oregon Sustainability Center is considered an energy-driven building, much of its design tracing back to the LBC’s Prerequisite Number Four, Net-Zero Energy, which requires, “One hundred percent of the building’s energy needs supplied by on-site renewable energy on a net annual basis.”

The intent behind this prerequisite speaks to the most pressing environmental issues of today. As the LBC explains:

“The majority of energy generated today is from unsustainable sources including coal, gas, oil and nuclear energy. Large-scale hydro, while inherently cleaner, brings widespread damaging ecosystem impact. The effects of these energy sources on regional and planetary health is becoming more and more evident, with climate change being the most worrisome of major global trends due to human activity. The intent of this prerequisite is to signal a new age of design, whereby all buildings rely solely on renewable forms of energy and operate year in and year out in a pollution-free manner. Since renewable energy sources are inherently more expensive than energy efficiency measures, efficiency as a first step is assumed.”

Assuming efficiency as the first step…back to Omid Nabipoor and his wrung-out towel. Just how efficient is the OSC striving to be?

According to the 2003 Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey on energy use in office buildings, published by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, the average facility in the United States has an EUI (energy utilization intensity) of approximately 92 kBTU/square foot/year.


(click on image to enlarge)

With Oregon’s more stringent energy code and the climate of the Pacific Northwest, the EUI average around here drops closer to 74. The Terry Thomas in Seattle, ranked last year as one of the Top Ten Green Projects by the AIA, has an EUI of 37. The Oregon Sustainability Center, by comparison, has set an EUI goal of 18-20.


(click on image to enlarge)

In order to achieve this unprecedented level of efficiency, the OSC will incorporate the following load reduction and mechanical strategies:

  • Improved building envelope (overall wall U value of .04)
  • A heat recovery ventilator with heating / cooling coils, supply / exhaust fans and air filtration
  • A geothermal, high efficiency water-to-water heat pump to provide heating to radiant floors and a heat recovery ventilator
  • Plate heat exchangers
  • An injection well with regenerative turbine / pump and 3R control valve
  • Radiant heating and cooling integrated into a topping slab on the structure
  • Low velocity underfloor air distribution for ventilation throughout
  • Night ventilation of the building’s thermal mass
  • Carbon dioxide sensors throughout the building
  • 35% vision glass that will be triple glazed with an overall glazing to be tuned to respond to each elevation.  For example, the south side will have a higher shading coefficient and the north side will have a higher U value.
  • Exterior shading devices with integrated photovoltaic panels to generate electricity while reducing heat load on building.  Interior light shelves will help bounce daylight deeper into the interior spaces.
  • Single gender bathrooms on alternate floors, which will make the floor plate more efficient.
  • A higher floor-to-floor height, allowing more light to penetrate the building interior
  • Roofs shaded with photovoltaics to minimize heat gain
  • Daylight controls with continuous dimming for a minimum of two zones (0-15’ from the window and 15’-25’ from the window)
  • Highly efficient fixture optics that allow for individual control of fixtures
  • Occupancy sensors for lighting throughout
  • Individual tenant control of light levels
  • LED lighting for corridors and lobby areas
  • Dual day / night lighting in corridors and egress stairs with occupancy sensors and time clock control

With each of these features and strategies plugged into the OSC’s energy model, the building achieves an EUI of around 23 kBTUH/sf. Bringing the EUI down to its final targeted range requires the engagement of the least predictable component in the building: the tenants themselves.


(click on image to enlarge)

The design team has added to the OSC energy model the following occupant enhancements, changes to typical office usage that are dependent on the building users, and that, if successful, will bring the building’s EUI down to even less than their original forecast, to 17.7 rather than the targeted 18-20.

Occupant enhancement strategies include:

  • Plug loads that are occupancy sensor controlled
  • Cleaning scheduled during unoccupied daylight hours, such as early morning or late afternoon, when there are fewer people in the building but natural light available
  • Hot water use reduced to little or none
  • Computer use limited to 80% laptops with a secondary screen / 20% desktop
  • Printer use reduced by 50%
  • Phantom loads completely removed
  • Personal energy budgets monitored daily

Tenants will be able to actively draw comparisons between different plug loads (from task lighting, space heaters, small appliances) as well as compare their energy usage power metering, with software that provides power quality information and feedback on actual power usage compared to others in the building.

At the individual scale, feedback will be possible with either a plug strip with integral power metering or a plug-in meter for workstations in open areas.

The team is still looking into additional enhancements such as thin client technology and a DC (direct current) loop, which would allow the energy generated by the photovoltaic panels (described below) to go directly to an end use without changing its current type (thereby eliminating the inefficiencies that come with conversion from DC to AC power).


After all energy conservation measures have been included, the nearly final push for the building’s net zero strategy will be the incorporation of photovoltaics (PVs). For the building’s energy model, PVs were analyzed using the most efficient panel on the market today – the Sanyo HIT 205. Bifacial PVs are also being considered, for the soaring canopy panels described in our previous discussion of the ground floor design.

The OSC rooftop, 10th floor canopy, sunshades, and plaza canopies contribute more than 85% of the energy needs of the building, while building integrated photovoltaics at the south facing spandrels account for the rest.  Altogether, the building has approximately 54,000 square feet of PV.

Greatest efficiencies, passive and active energy sources…so what, then, is the final-final push for net zero energy?

As one of only two governing principles for the Living Building Challenge, the priority is clear: Designation of a Living Buildings is “based on actual, rather than modeled or anticipated, performance. Therefore, buildings must be operational for at least twelve consecutive months prior to evaluation.”

As usual, the final responsibility for the success of a Living Building floats back to the people. We won’t know whether the OSC will reach its 17.7 EUI, or its net zero energy strategy, for a couple of years. Planned efficiencies and sourcing from renewables takes us halfway there. The rest is up to every individual who commits to working in the building each day. At the risk of becoming a broken record, we’ll say it one more time: People are (still) the life in a living building.

Filed under: Design Progress, Project History