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Portland’s Edith Green/Wendell Wyatt Federal Building gets green upgrades

February 3, 2010

current building, via Wall Street Journal

Portland’s Edith Green/Wendell Wyatt Federal Building is set to undergo a transformation in the coming months, made feasible by federal stimulus funds. The U.S. General Services Administration will work with SERA Architects and Cutler Anderson Architects to give the building a green facelift, a project that carries a price tag of $133 million.

The greatest buzz around this renovation has been the vertical wall that will encompass 250 vertical feet of the office tower. The plants will grow on ‘fins’ that are set at acute angles and will grow much like plants in the garden climb trellises. The idea is that lush foliage will grow during the spring and summer, and will shade the building’s west facade enough to reduce energy bills. In the colder months, the plants will naturally drop their foliage and sunlight can once again penetrate the building to provide warmth.

Though details have not been finalized, the vertical wall will ideally be irrigated with captured rainwater from the roof, and supplemented by municipal supply if necessary. Though, in a notoriously rainy city like Portland, hopefully they would have enough without city supply?

Many in Portland, and nationally, are applauding the green retrofit, as the federal stimulus funds will finally be used to help expand the field of green architecture. However, Senators John McCain and Don Coburn have expressed dissatisfaction with the way the federal monies are being used, saying that it might be a better use of money to build a new building instead of retrofitting this one. To respond to this, I have to point out that tearing down the structure and trucking away all the debris, which inevitably will end up in a landfill will cause environmental degradation. For one, you’re creating a huge amount of waste. You’re also paying (money and emissions) to move all that debris. So, factor those costs into the project, and maybe it is better to retrofit the current building . . . ?

Some of the other features that SERA Architects and the G.S.A hope to include are: solar arrays on the roof that could supply up to 15% of the building’s power needs, double glazed windows to lower heating and cooling costs, smart lighting systems that adapt depending on daylight (set to reduce lighting energy consumption by 50%), an overhanging roof to provide shade, and a water collection and reuse system combined with low-flow fixtures (enabling a reduction in potable water consumption by as much as 68%).

They hope to recuperate building costs through energy savings, and the G.S.A has said they hope to achieve a savings of $280,000 annually.

I am excited to see a federal building becoming green, but am still slightly hesitant about the realities of green walls. It will no doubt be a challenge to find vegetation that thrives in both Portland’s rainy season and its hotter, dry summers. I would feel more confident about architectural details such as light shelves, fins, and glazing on the skin of a building with a mix of a green roof and solar arrays. Green roofs have been proven to provide quantifiable energy savings, they extend the life of the roof, and they manage stormwater runoff.

What do you think of this renovation? Is it a good use of federal stimulus funds? What of the wall: do you think it’s ugly, or cool looking?

renderings by Scott Baumberger

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. nick permalink
    October 25, 2010 12:30 am

    I think this is a revolutionary piece of architecture. Especially as a federal building. How many other federal buildings built or in planning have such high performance ideals?

  2. November 3, 2010 4:56 pm

    I feel that Liza may be a little bleak in her questioning foliage that grows well in Portland’s climate. As an arborist, we run into plenty of deciduous vines that do spectacularly in arboreal situations with a limited amount of rooting area. In addition, there are plenty of plants that grow in such situations which are native epiphytes which could provide habitat for urban wildlife. I would suggest a diversity of plantings at first to see what works in which micro-environments and fine tuning over the years. After all, isn’t that what gardening is all about?

  3. Steve Johnson permalink
    November 10, 2010 1:22 pm

    Not sure how this took priority over renovating Portland Public Schools. Good luck getting the money for this. http://tinyurl.com/2euw5wq

  4. CharonPDX permalink
    February 14, 2011 7:30 pm

    Steve, because it’s a Federal Building, the fed gov’t can just do it with funds they have for renovating/building Fed Buildings. PPS is in its own world of hurt, not easily influenced by the Federal government.

  5. March 27, 2011 1:03 pm

    kudos to Damon who captured my feelings and more regarding the vegetation. If you want upgrades to PPS instead and worry about the kids, they need this retrofit and all the conservation we can give them, otherwise, where they gonna live? Excited to see it happen. If you’re worrying about aesthetics, I think we just have to accept things differently in order to reach a goal. Maybe buildings and houses will just look different in the future. We might just have to get used to it.

  6. Jeff Rowley permalink
    July 10, 2012 11:19 am

    Great idea but since there was nothing wrong with the original building, this is a total waste of taxpayer money. There are so many other things these “stimulus funds” could have been used for, like the rebuilding of the Sellwood Bridge. $133 million to save $280k annually? Let’s see … that’s 475 years before this building starts really saving us money. What a waste!

  7. Mashie Niblets permalink
    September 19, 2012 5:29 pm

    Truth be told, the Edith Green no longer met Federal Energy Efficiency standards and was, at one point, going to be abandoned or leveled and replaced. So not a waste, since the retrofit cost less than a new construction. As for the Sellwood,Bridge, the current one has failed structural tests over and over and is in danger of complete closure.

    You can have an opinion, but opinion doesn’t change the facts. Unless, I suppose, if you’re on Fox News. Where shrill opinion, repeated often, is what passes for “news”.

    Rather than concentrating on Left and Right, we should concentrate on right and wrong.

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