Oregon Sustainability Center

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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

GBS releases eco-charrette report


The executive report from the OSC eco-charrette is now available for review.

Click here to download the complete 21-page PDF.

Thank you to Green Building Services for all of the hard work that went into the creation of this document (and this is only the summary!).


Filed under: Announcements, Design Progress, Project History, Research

Digging In: OSC’s research team takes its first steps


Lisa Petterson of SERA presents a design vision at the OSC charrette. Petterson and five others are now launching the initial research efforts for the OSC’s actual design and development.

The most common question we’ve heard since the end of the OSC charrette has been, What happens next?

To which we reply: A lot.

Ideally, the charrette infuses all aspects of the project moving forward, its salient points functioning as both a filter and a reference, whether the design team is puzzling over how to deal with storm water, or the research team is seeking ways to engage the university system.

But first, the distillation. Green Building Services reports that they have gathered over 20 GB of material from the week-long jam session. The team at GBS is now diligently culling through all of the notes, illustrations, videos and photographs they’ve collected, and they’ll be compiling a final report that will be made available for public distribution in the coming weeks. We’ll be sure to post that here when it arrives.

Meanwhile, the OSC research team has formed a working group that now meets every Monday to discuss the status of a series of prioritized investigations.

This group—which includes David Kenney of Oregon BEST, Jennifer Allen, interim director of the Center for Sustainable Processes and Practices at PSU, Damin Tarlow and Dennis Wilde of Gerding Edlen Development, and Clark Brockman and Lisa Petterson of SERA— has determined that the OSC research efforts for the feasibility study will center on achieving greater clarity on the greatest unknown variables related to the Living Building Challenge criteria.

The agenda also stems from a desire to take advantage, wherever possible, of existing research available from the Oregon University System (an OSC core project partner), which will be critical given the nearing deadline of the feasibility phase (June 30th, 2009).

The team has identified eight areas of focus. They include:

  • Identifying products the team is likely to use in the building that cannot be procured within the service radius prescribed by the Living Building Challenge (Prerequisite #8).
  • Understanding the research Portland State University is doing on measuring green roof behavior relative to energy conservation, water conservation and water quality as it might apply to this project.
  • Tracking and analyzing microclimate-specific data from Portland State University’s existing weather station so the design team can utilize it in its building analysis. Specifically, wind direction and intensity are very specific to the site and need to be gathered locally.
  • Gathering data on several parking garages near to the building site (SW 5th and Washington) to understand their energy use characteristics, to then potentially model a large building’s path to net zero energy at a district scale.
  • Initiating daylighting modeling and form analysis specific to the project (light shelf design/glazing design).
  • Reviewing existing carbon footprint metrics to assist in understanding the carbon impact of the OSC from manufacturing to design through construction and beyond.

Eager to get to work straight away (and aware of the shortage of time), the team’s investigations into these eight topic areas have already begun. We’ll keep you posted as the findings roll in.

Filed under: Project History, Research