Oregon Sustainability Center

building partnerships : advancing best practices : creating green jobs

A Balancing Act: Early designs of the OSC


The latest iteration of the OSC sits among its predecessors, soon to be swapped for yet another draft.

Good news: it’s possible.

Thanks to rigorous trial, error, number crunching, model building, draft scrapping, and model re-building, we now have a path to achieving net zero energy and net zero water in a high rise building.

Good news, yes, but it is only the beginning. We are months away from knowing what such a building might actually look like. Yet its early designs, each a unique exploration into the extremes of form and function, reveal that by working within parameters that maximize highly efficient harvesting and use of energy and water, a living building on an urban scale can, in fact, be possible.


How did we get here?

Earlier this week, the OSC’s core team at GBD and SERA presented designs and fielded questions on the path they’ve taken to date. In attendance were members of the OSC working group, and three invited guests from the project’s advisory committee: Alice Wiewel, Director of Capital Planning at the Oregon University System; Christine Theodoropolous, Department Head at the University of Oregon School of Architecture; and Sergio Palleroni, fellow and professor at Portland State University’s Center for Sustainable Practices and Processes.

Much like a standard academic design review, the session was informal, emphasizing candid feedback and dialog. There was clearly plenty to say, as the group was engaged in a lively discussion that lasted over two hours.

The project’s lead designers, Kyle Andersen of GBD and Kurt Schultz of SERA, led the conversation.


After 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, the planned SW Portland EcoDistrict, and the Montgomery Green Street, the focus turned to the designs.

We’ll let them drive the rest of this post…


This list of attributes hung alongside the sketches and notes on the wall. Each will need to work in concert not only with the project’s five guiding principles, and the complex program designed to meet the specific space needs of each building tenant, but also the rigorous prerequisites of the Living Building Challenge, the catalyst which first brought everyone together months ago.



The earliest models of the OSC were a study in “bracketing the extremes” of biophilic form, designing from the most pure (a raindrop) to the most abstract (the “torque”). With the exception of the Courtyard scheme (described below), all early designs were for a 250 foot tall building.


The Raindrop scheme.


The Nautilus scheme.


The Kidney Bean scheme.

The Raindrop, Nautilus, and Kidney Bean schemes each included an atrium that punched light all the way through the building, tying, in the design team’s view, the entire building together. Later analysis revealed that a top-to-bottom opening would not effectively achieve the daylighting the team was after, and also posed structural (mechanical pressure/comfort) and safety concerns.


The Torque scheme.

The Torque scheme pushed the “building as metaphor” idea one step further, mimicking in its upper levels the behavior of a sunflower as it unfurls and tracks the sun across the sky. For the building, such a twist, or “torque”, gradually changes the building orientation from the urban form of the block toward a solar-friendly orientation.

The Courtyard scheme.

In addition to the object-based explorations, the team explored how feasible it could be to fit all of the building’s program into a shorter building, in this case 170 ft. They found they could fit the program, but the Courtyard scheme was, in their opinion, at the cost of the building’s sculptural, inspiring form. They did not explore this further.

Early feedback encouraged the team to look more deeply into the Nautilus and Torque schemes, to see whether it might be possible to merge these two ideas into a single form. Here are two of those studies.





At play in these designs is the push and pull between the building’s program, which at last check called for 250,000 to 260,000 square feet, and the total surface area necessary on the site to house all of the photovoltaic panels required for the building’s energy production. The grid-like panels in these models represent those PV panels.

Last week, the core project team agreed to pursue a design that achieved net zero energy, first, and fit the program, second. This decision, combined with revisions to the Nautilus-Torque hybrid, led to the latest 220,000 square foot design, which fell prey to the most intense scrutiny at this week’s design review.


The ground floor, shown here with Montgomery Street at the top, must wear many hats: Gateway to the building, a stop for the southbound streetcar, a southern flank to the Montgomery Green Street, a shortcut for pedestrians passing through, host to interactive exhibit space, one stop among many for stormwater as it travels from the rooftops to areas of infiltration, to name a few.

Two options for the streetcar’s path remain on the table: First, to keep its tracks as they are today, with the northbound path traveling along Montgomery Street, or second, to divert the tracks so that both north- and southbound cars cut directly through, and under, the building. Moving the tracks off of Montgomery creates opportunities for the green street to be closed for festivals and events. General consensus at the design critique was leaning toward this second option, as it facilitates lively interaction in and around the building.


Replacing the single, 15-story shaft of light, open gardens now alternate up the building with north- and south-facing exposures. The north-facing, Montgomery Green Street side includes a green wall that climbs uninterrupted to the 7th floor, using a continuous stream of vegetation to pull the green street into and up the building.  The design also proposes alternating the men’s and women’s restrooms on the upper floors, a generally reductive measure to save on fixtures, square footage, and water.


Structural elements and garden spaces ring the outer perimeter of the building, with elevators and restrooms clustered at the core. Honoring the guiding vision of the Torque, the floor plan rotates four degrees on every level.





This week’s critique focused primarily on the lower levels, which, according to the advisory board, felt the least successful. The design team agreed, noting there were still many unanswered questions.

As the end of the feasibility study nears (early June), they will continue on their quest, looking more deeply into where the primary entrance should be (favoring the green street, or favoring the sun?), how to activate and energize the ground floor (is it a hub, or a thoroughfare, or how can it be both?), how to soften the site so that it’s experienced as a lush forest with a canopy of trees (PV panels) overhead, how to address the urban design challenges (what is the building’s relationship to its neighbors? how is it experienced from down the street? from across the river?)…

“We’ve been juggling a lot of things,” says Kyle Andersen of GBD. “The energy for the building, how big is the building, how tall is the building, where do we put the PV’s…now we need to really come back full circle, looking harder at this, the human experience of the building.”

“Whatever design we end up with in the feasibility study is purely a vehicle to demonstrate the feasibility of the project, it is not necessarily the final design,” continues Andersen. “It is one of many potential designs. But the bigger picture is that it demonstrates that [a Living Building of this scale] can be done. It could look like this, it could be square, it could be rectangle, it could be tall and skinny…But we’ve also found that there are parameters, how much PV do you have, so how long is the building facing south, and so on…it’s a balancing act. But [this is] definitely not the final design.”

The OSC’s design will continue to evolve. Meanwhile, the project team is busy digging in to the equally burning question of How much will it cost? More on that one, later.

Thank you to Kyle Andersen of GBD, Lisa Petterson of SERA, and Kathryn Krygier, for their input.

All photos by Eugénie Frerichs.


Filed under: Design Progress, Project History

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

Place Matters

In the coming days, we’ll be sharing some early concept designs for the OSC. They are the culmination of hours of heads-down, sleeves-rolled-up creativity from the team at GBD and SERA.

But first, we thought it’d help to set the scene.

This takes some eye squinting. Blur your vision, tap into your imagination, and have a look at the city block between SW 4th and 5th Avenues, and the streets Harrison and Montgomery, in downtown Portland.

This is the intended home of the Oregon Sustainability Center.


Bird’s eye view, as seen from the 16th floor of the Cyan, looking to the south and west.

Today, it is primarily a parking lot. The historic Harrison Court Apartments sit in the southwest quadrant of this block, and there’s an old couch, missing its cushions, stashed in some bushes behind the parked cars.


View of 4th Ave., looking south. The OSC site is just out of view, to the lower right.


The Portland Streetcar traveling north, skirting the eastern edge of the OSC site.

The city grid around here is about 20 degrees off of the north-south axis, and 4th Ave., home to Portland State University’s LEED Gold Engineering Building, jogs to the right just as it hits the OSC block. Currently, the Portland Streetcar skirts around all this, its tracks converging at 5th and Montgomery, where it either continues on to South Waterfront, or heads back north, depending.


Streetcar tracks passing underneath the College of Urban and Public Affairs.

To the north and west, between 5th and 6th Aves. and Montgomery and Mill, the streetcar cuts diagonally across the block, passing directly under Portland State University’s Urban Center, home to the College of Urban and Public Affairs. It has been, to date, the only place in the city where the streetcar cuts through a block in this way.

SW 5th and Montgomery is also the only point in the city where the streetcar tracks intersect with those of the new MAX line, the Portland Mall Light Rail (opening later this year), making this a significant hub for public transit.


Montgomery Street, looking to the west.

Looking to the west of the parking-lot-turned-OSC, Montgomery Street extends into, or actually flows from, the West Hills. It alternates between being car-full and car-free. The Urban Center Plaza one block west carved out Montgomery’s most recent pedestrian corridor, and the South Park Blocks, home to the Portland Farmer’s Market, and visible here as the swath of green trees beyond PSU’s elevated walkways, are also car-free.

Spin yourself around 180 degrees, with the OSC site now to your right, and you’re looking east down Montgomery, past the nearly finished Cyan, to the historic Pettygrove Park, designed by Lawrence Halprin, and part of Portland’s 1960’s urban renewal zone.


Pettygrove Park from above, with the Willamette River to the east.


Pettygrove Park from the ground, looking east.


Montgomery Street on the eastern edge of Pettygrove Park, where it is car-free.

The park extends from 4th Ave. down to 1st, dropping off at the waterfront, linking this SW Portland neighborhood to the Willamette River with one long stretch of green.

The potential for this green corridor has not been lost on the city. Together the Bureau of Environmental Services and the Portland Development Commission are pursuing a strategy for what is being called the Montgomery Green Street Blocks. An innovative plan that spans from SW 11th Ave. down to the eastern edge of Pettygrove Park, this Green Street incorporates a variety of district-wide stormwater management strategies, including pedestrian-centric curbless streets, pavers, stormwater planters, and vertical and horizontal green walls.


Click here for a larger view of the plan.

Neighbor to an urban university committed to revitalizing its district with sustainable planning and design…the nexus of a public transportation hub…within a network of green streets…part of a district that is being planned at the watershed scale…the anchor to what will be one of Portland’s first official EcoDistricts

Place does matter.

Having just done some eye squinting, and, starting from 5th and Montgomery, a vast visual sweep in every direction, you’ll now be able to see the upcoming designs as they’re intended: not for that of a single building, but rather for an exciting new project that is one small part of a much bigger thing.

Thank you to Damin Tarlow of Gerding Edlen Development for the very helpful tour.

All photos by Eugénie Frerichs.

Filed under: Design Progress, Project History

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

The OSC’s Top Five : a closer look at the project’s guiding principles


Last week’s charrette unearthed a profusion of ideas for designing the Oregon Sustainability Center. In the interest of developing a unified point of view, the project team has distilled those ideas down to the following guiding principles, which will drive the project forward in the coming months.

  1. Appropriately scale systems for optimal performance.
  2. Make less do more.
  3. Design for resource equity.
  4. Integrate natural systems to benefit all species.
  5. Recognize that people are the life in a living building.

We asked a few members of the project team to elaborate on these concepts. Here’s what they had to say.


1.     Appropriately scale systems for optimal performance.
As we consider systems that may be incorporated into the OSC, we need to determine the scale or size of the system that will provide the most cost- and resource-efficient delivery of services. Some systems make sense when applied at a building scale, while other systems may make more sense at a district scale, providing services to many buildings. We will evaluate best scale/performance options for the following systems:

•    Stormwater Management
•    Rainwater Harvesting
•    Wastewater Treatment
•    Treated Wastewater Distribution
•    Earth-coupled Energy Systems
•    Renewable Energy


2.    Make less do more

One way to significantly reduce the environmental impact of the OSC will be to reduce the total amount of materials used in the project, thereby reducing the resource investment in the manufacture, transport, installation and maintenance of those materials.  For this to be successful, those materials that are incorporated into the building must provide as many functions as possible. One example: Design a single structural system that…

o    Is exposed as a finish material for ceilings, floors and walls
o    Provides distribution of heating and cooling
o    Serves as a conduit for plumbing, electrical and telephone/data
o    Provides thermal mass for night-flushing and passive cooling


3.    Design for resource equity
As we evaluate resource budgets for the building, and in order to meet the Living Building Challenge, we must not only consider our own needs for resource use, but also ensure that we consider the needs of other species.  For instance, the Living Building Challenge requires that the building use only the water that falls on the site.  This can be used to provide the water budget for the building, to meet the needs of the occupants and equipment.  However, when we consider “water equity”, this begs the question: Is it fair to other species if we use all of the water that falls on the site, and what if every building did this?


4.    Integrate natural systems to benefit all species
Inclusion of natural systems is essential to the success of the OSC.  Dr. Judith Heerwagen’s presentation at the charrette and her ongoing work clearly show the value of incorporating biophilic design approaches into the workplace environment.  Literal, facsimile or representative systems from nature provide psychological as well as performance enhancements for humans.  At the same time, natural treatment systems for stormwater, wastewater and air quality provide an ecosystem service without significant chemical inputs and energy use.  Through thoughtful design, these systems can also provide habitat for other species and further enhance the local ecosystem.


5.    Recognize that people are the life in a Living Building
The Living Building Challenge represents a dramatic paradigm shift in the way that buildings are designed, built and occupied.  A vacant building can exist without any resource inputs, but once occupied, a building requires resources to support the health and wellbeing of the occupants.  The existing building stock does not provide occupants with information on building performance so that they can make informed decisions about resource use.  A Living Building provides occupants with a feedback loop on individual resource use and overall building performance as well as providing appropriate choices to support occupant comfort and well-being.  This approach necessitates the active participation of the people in the building to ensure that resource budgets are met for energy and water use in order to meet the net-zero energy and water prerequisites.  With this new approach, occupants become part of the essential functions of the building.

Thank you to the team at SERA and GBD for the illustrations. You can download the full collection here. And thank you to Ralph DiNola of Green Building Services for his extensive input.

Filed under: Design Progress, Project History

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

Check it out at the Open House

This Friday, the ideas of the week’s eco-charrette will be on display – covering everything from technical details to the wildest concepts.  Come discuss the project and explore the results!

Informal Open House | OSC eco-charrette

April 10, 2009, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.

1120 NW Couch Street, Sixth Floor

Brewery Block Tower

Filed under: Announcements

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

The feasibility team

Eleven teams responded to the Portland Development Commission’s Request for Proposals (RFP) to study the feasibility of the Oregon Sustainability Center.  After a first round of evaluation, the following four teams made the short list:

  • Gerding Edlen Development with SERA Architects and GBD Architects
  • Holst Architecture with FXFOWLE, Pettigrove Venture and Equity Community Builders LLC
  • Ethos Project Management with Behnisch Architects, Inc., Brightworks and Regenesis Group
  • Winkler Development Corporation with Perkins + Will and LRS Architects Inc.

Each team presented a remarkable set of strengths, making the final decision a tough one.

On February 27, the four short-listed teams presented their proposals to the project evaluation committee.  After much deliberation and debate, the contract was awarded to (……drum roll please……) Gerding Edlen Development with SERA Architects and GBD Architects.  We’re excited to have them on board!   Stay tuned for updates from the team.

Filed under: Project History