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