Category Archives: Portland

Here’s a tool to help green roofs grow

The following post is by Oregon BEST:

A unique modeling tool developed at Portland State University with support from Oregon BEST is helping local green roof manufacturer Columbia Green Technologies speed adoption of green roofs to meet legislation aimed at reducing combined sewer overflows during heavy rains and thereby grow the Portland based start-up’s national market share.

The new tool is the result of a research project funded by Oregon BEST and led by Graig Spolek, a PSU professor and director of the Green Roof Design and Test Lab. Columbia Green uses the tool when working with civil engineers and architects who need accurate, quantitative data about how much stormwater a green roof in a specific geographical location will both retain and detain.

A green roof sits atop the new Apple store in downtown Portland.

“This new tool has been very helpful; it’s helped us open doors to some of the best engineering and architecture firms in the country,” said Elaine Kearney, Technical Director at Columbia Green. “Being able to generate this kind of data bolsters our reputation as being innovative and technologically very forward looking.”

Eric Zickler, an associate principal at Aecom, one of largest engineering firms in the world, said his firm uses many different tools to measure performance of their stormwater management infrastructure designs, but the Columbia Green tool stands out.

“Generally the calculators and modeling modules are generic and do not provide a high level of confidence in predicted performance,” Zickler said. “The green roof stormwater management tool developed by Columbia Green is specific to green roofs and developed using both theory and empirical data for multiple geographies across varying storm intensities, making it a valuable resource in building our confidence in the stormwater management benefits of green roofs.”

The new tool, which can generate data specific to geographic areas and weather patterns, gives Columbia Green a competitive advantage when the company interacts with potential clients.

“The ability to quantify our performance with this degree of accuracy is unique, so it’s a significant advantage for us,” said Robin Schneider, marketing director at Columbia Green.

This strategic funding exemplifies how Oregon BEST, a state-funded organization that fosters technology-based economic development, helps clean-technology companies collaborate with universities to advance and commercialize products to grow Oregon’s green economy.

“It’s been very rewarding to see Columbia Green leverage our investment in research and transform that into expanded distribution and sales opportunities,” said David Kenney, president and executive director of Oregon BEST.

Green roofs and other green infrastructure approaches are gaining visibility at all levels of government, both in the United States and abroad, as officials try to implement policies to address aging public infrastructure.

Two years ago, Vanessa Keitges, CEO of Columbia Green, was selected to sit on the President’s Export Council at the White House.

“We greatly appreciate the Oregon BEST support that allowed us to take advantage of the PSU rain lab and develop a tool that’s helping us succeed,” Keitges said. “Local cooperation between industries and academia is recognized as a model for innovation to solve global problems.”

Oregon BEST is a state agency that nurtures clean technology innovation by transforming new ideas, research, and products into green-collar jobs, greater sustainability, and economic prosperity for Oregon.


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Which Living Building are you most excited for?

In the Pacific  Northwest, there are a number of living buildings in different stages of development. But in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C., there are three projects that stand out and will be fascinating to compare.

The projects are Seattle’s  Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, Portland’s Oregon Sustainability Center and Vancouver’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability. Though each is very different, they are large and significant enough to be comparable.  Unlike most living buildings, which have to date been smaller structures in isolated landscapes, each of these is in the center of a city. Each are being built by nonprofit or educational organizations. Each will act as a nexus of sustainability for their respective communities.

Of the three, CIRS in Vancouver is furthest ahead, and should be ready for occupancy this summer. The 60,000-square-foot, four-story structure is a dry-lab research facility for the University of British Columbia. It’s budget is $37 million Canadian. It was designed by Busby, Perkins + Will. I wrote a previous post about the project here.

Courtesy Perkins+Will Canada Architects Co.

Next, comes the Bullitt Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle. The Bullitt project, on Capitol Hill, will be six stories and a basement over 52,000 square feet. It is designed by The Miller Hull Partnership and Schuchart is the general contractor. Point32 is the development partner. Completion is planned for next summer. Bullitt is not releasing its budget but plans to release other detailed information on performance and development. At the design presentation for the project earlier this month, Jason McLennan of the Cascadia Green Building Council said “I think this is the most important building being built in the country today,” he said. “It’s going to open up a whole new set of eyes.”

Image courtesy The Miller Hull Partnership

Third, is the Portland project. It recently completed final design and should begin construction in early 2012, with an opening in late 2013. The team includes Gerding Edlen, SERA Architects, GBD Architects and Skanska Construction. The Portland Daily Journal of Commerce reported that the project’s budget is $59.3 million, not including $4 million needed to align streetcar tracks beneath it. The seven-story building will be 130,000-square-feet. It’s funded by the City of Portland, the Portland Development Commission and the Oregon University System.

Image courtesy Oregon Sustainability Center.

Though each is similar, a “green competition” has sprouted from the beginning between the Seattle and Portland projects. Time recently published a post on the “green war” here.

Though each building must accomplish the broad goals of the living building challenge (provide all energy, treat and provide all water) they are meeting the goals in different ways. In large part, jurisdictional codes and requirements have influenced design. The Vancouver building, for example, is essentially becoming its own waste treatment plant and will provide all its own water. The Bullitt project will use composting toilets, and is struggling with the ability to treat rainwater. I’m excited to see how each performs.

Which building are you most excited for? Which one do you think is the prettiest, or the one that you respond to best aesthetically? Answer our poll at right or comment below with your reasons!

P.S. For more on Seattle’s first building designed to living building standards that is complete, the Science Wing at the Bertschi School, click the living building tab or go here. It hasn’t received certification yet but is on track to do so!

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Living Future, Day 2: Are these brilliant ideas?

Apparently, Living Future has a theme of people taking their shirts off. Last year it was Sim Van der Ryn. This year it’s the people introducing the 15 Minutes of Brilliance (though to be fair they said they were just getting more casual and only stripped to their t-shirts under dress shirts).

(By the way, the audience is whoot-whooting like in the Arsenio Hall show….)

So 15 minutes of Brilliance lets a few pre-chosen teams to get up and share their brilliant ideas in 10 minutes or less. Excuse me if the below information is a tad fragmented. 

The first item was presented by Geof Syphers, chief sustainability officer of Codding

The Sonoma Mountain Village site plan
Enterprises and Greg Searle of BioRegional. Syphers is helping to redevelop Sonoma Mountain Village, a 200-acre factory site in California into an urban neighborhood that will be leed nd, leed platinum and will meet the OnePlanet sustainable criteria. The project is 100 percent solar powered. The team is regrinding 40,000 tons of asphalt to recreate roads. It has a biodiesel factory. What’s brilliant, Sypher said is looking at the impacts of a project through this tool,  we have to set impact design goals for projects, and we have to measure the end impacts of projects. “Leed platinum isn’t always better than LEED silver,” he said… but this tool will help get projects greener.

Aurora Mahassine of Habitile The Hanging Gardens went second. She said we need to re-think what our home is, what we value as a society and our connectivity with the Earth systems we evolved with. She said we need more curves, holes and places for life to happen in our landscape. Quote of the day? “fertility begins with a hole.” If we keep telling ourselves stories of an apocaypse, she said, we will get there but if we re-embrace gardens with our hands, touch life and reinsert ourselves into the natural lifecycle, our future won’t be an apocalypse. Reintegrating ourselves. Habitile itself create vertical modular living systems that become a living wall. 

Jim Estes of Inhabitability dicussed the Greensburg Living Building Challenge Competition. Two years ago, a tornado decimated Greensburg, Kansas. As they recovered they

Greensburg after the tornado
decided there had to be a better way, so each new structure is being developed to LEED platinum. The city has a new sustinable recovery plan to make the city into a sustainable pioneering center. Greensburg Green Town is developing a series of green houses so people can test drive them. Greensburg is currently forming a new partnership with Cascadia to create affordable homes. It will host a contest for teens to design, build and create affordable homes that meet the Living Building Challenge. Greensburg is offering no ordinance roadblocks for water, netzero energy etc. Teens from different locales can enter.  They hope to launch the competition in the fall. At every item this will be presented to the media (ahem).

The fourth idea was presented by Bryony Schwan, executive director of the Biomimicry Guild. Scwan said if we could use biomimicry to create change in the built environment, we could effect real change to help prevent climate change. Animals, she said, do more with less while humans problem solve in a completely different way. For example, she said, we thought until recently that flat surfaces were easier to clean. But we looked at lotuses, which had tiny rivets that allowed water to roll off the leaf and clean it. The guild is hosting the Green Building Design Challenge, to look at the connections between design and nature. There are three parts to this challenge: on Wednseday, the guild hosted a design charette to tackle the problem. Now, the challenge will be available online for comment and the third part will be taking designs to market. The challenge will be at

Sara Garrett, director of the Motivespace Coalition spoke about community asset funds and growing community space. Motivespace asks how space can motivate change through community asset funds. The first step in developing a fund is is to stay positive. The second is to support each other. The third is to know your value. The fourth is to cooperate. No one person or gorup could build a thriving community asset fund alone, Garrett said. Because time is money, neighbors can work together to get projects done, bank extra hours and use the extra time they’ve banked for yard work, neighborhood massages or other work. In this system, any person can seed a project and the best projects will rise to the top and draw the neighbor’s assets and skills. 

….. and that’s it!

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Janine Benyus at Living Future: mimicking nature and how it will save the world

Some keynote speakers leave you satisfied, some leave you disappointed and some leave you angry that you just wasted two hours of your time. Then, there are keynote speakers like Janine Benyus that leave you wanting more.


Benyus spoke last night at the Living Future Conference in Portland. Her talk was warm, personal, funny

and informative. Having never heard Benyus speak before, I now understand why she’s considered such a big deal. The talk was pretty amazing.

Janine Benyus


The talk began with Sam Adams, Portland’s mayor (who is funny!!!), welcoming people to Portland. He was pretty straightforward about the general fear that you can’t make any money being green. Not true, he said: “If you take nothing else away from your trip to Portland, take this away: you can make money being very, very green.” Portland, he said, keeps millions in its economy because of its public transportation and green business.


Jason McLennan, Cascadia’s CEO then glowingly introduced Benyus, saying “I think you’re one of the most important figures in the planet today, period… I think you represent our species really well.” Not every day you hear that!


Then Benyus took the stage. She said the uncertainty in today’s financial markets can be used to the benefit of biomimicry, building design and creating a better world. When cultural certainties disappear, she said, so does arrogance. She said the recession is creating a similar attitude that happened after the World Trade Center attacks – where “the world is open to listening to the next question … As long as they’re listening, let’s make the vision as big as we can.”


What can we learn fro, this luna moth?


In this same vein, she said building models for a place can be created by looking at how natural organisms in a location treat things like fire, wind etc. “Our buildings could have general organisms as their models.”


Benyus said she hopes we will be able to fly over cities in the future, and have them be functionally indistinguishable from the natural environment. That, she said, would be sustainability.


Benyus also plugged a tool she has been working on for the past year called The tool, she said, allows designers to ask how nature would fix a problem and learn from it. She also discussed how future areas of technology can be inspired by animal organisms. She and Paul Hawken, for example, are working on a new solar cell that is inspired by photosynthesis.


But in the end, she said, new technology or new laws aren’t going to save us from ourselves. She said the only thing that can save us is “a change of heart and a change of stance towards the rest of the world.”

These are just a few of the items she discussed. For more, stay tuned to a future story in the DJC. If you attended the talk, please comment below and tell me what you thought of it – or what you’ve thought about Benyus’ previous talks. If you didn’t attend the talk, I’d love to hear your comments. Is mimicking nature the future of building? How important is it compared to meeting netzero energy or netting zero water?

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Living Future, Day 1: the tour

Bright and early this morning (7:30 a.m.) I boarded a Seattle train bound for Portland so I could attend Wednesday’s Living Future site tour (the first official part of the Living Future Conference) and share the results with you. Though I may be hitting the sack a little early tonight, the results did not disappoint.

There were three tours being held. I attended the one at Portland State University’s Shattuck Hall, a building that was originally built in 1915 and recently underwent a ginormous renovation, both functionally and sustainably.

The building itself houses the school’s architecture program, so one of the goals of the renovation was to make the building itself a teaching tool. Hence it features things like exposed piping and systems and exposed radiant ceiling panels. The visibility of systems changes from floor to floor, with the top being the most obvious and open.

Having written about the Vance Building earlier this week for the DJC, I noticed a lot of similarities. Both were built early in the century, and both recently underwent massive improvements on tight budgets. The differences in what the two decided to concentrate on though, especially having toured both buildings, were really interesting.

I took some amazing photos, which my (old) computer is unfortunately not letting me load. I promise to post them as soon as I feasibly can. I’ll also try to add more information about Shattuck Hall at a later date.

Stay tuned: tonight’s keynote speaker is Janine Benyus!

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