Last month Metro held its Integrating Habitats competition, and although I’m late in writing about it, wanted to touch upon at least one of the winners.
The purpose of Integrating Habitats was to generate designs that integrate built and natural environments. According to metro, winners would “redefine the current language and standards of environmental sustainability by fostering balance between conservation and development, maximizing biodiversity and safeguarding water quality for this generation and those to come."
The jury included Stuttgart/Los Angeles architect Stefan Behnisch; University of Michigan landscape architecture professor Joan Nassauer; Tom Schueler, founder of the Center for Watershed Protection in Maryland; Metropolis magazine editor Susan Szenasy; Portland developer Jim Winkler; and David Yocca, director of the Conservation Design Forum in Elmhurst, Illinois.
In the commercial category, a collaborative group from Portland was the winner. Team members came from Greenworks, Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects, ESA Adolphson, SWCA Environmental Consultants, and Bruce Rodgers Design Illustration. The submittal, which drew from Metro’s 2040 Growth Concept and Portland’s Peak Oil Task Force 2007 Report, involved a lowland hardwood forest habitat interface with a big-box green home center, parking, and remnant wetlands.
"We were drawn to Category 2 because it is a type of project (big-box) that is not typically known for sustainability," Greenworks' Jason King told me. "It was mostly a parking problem. We also asked ourselves, "How will design and development change due to peak oil? How can we design now to respond to the future variability? Our aim was a project that could be viable, one a developer would look at and say 'We could build this.'"
King also, in his email to me, quoted the landscape urbanism theorist Charles Waldheim: "Landscape replaces architecture as the basic building block of contemporary urbanism... Landscape has become both the lens through which the contemporary city is represented and the medium through which it is constructed."
Among the plans are for unwanted yard and food wastes to be brought on site and transformed into compost. Stormwater collected and cleansed with technologies that replicate wetland processes and habitats. Economically, they explain, “our development model taps into Portland’s leading market for sustainable building practices and lifestyles, and fosters community by creating service- oriented building centers near regional and town centers to meet the challenges of post peak-oil conditions. Through daylighting, façade articulation and site responsive features, the architecture provides a contrasting experience that will attract nearby shoppers from adjacent big box developments for the engaging experience the site will offer them.”
To me this isn't a radical re-invention of the big-box store. It's really just about breaking down the bulk of the store, stopping the roof from being an eyesore and a heat island by landscaping the top and sloping one edge down. And then it's making the surface parking lot softer around the edges.
I wonder if an even greener solution, which for all I know the competition brief didn't allow, might be to put another store next to the big box where the surface parking lot would go, and have the two side-by-side stores share the cost of putting parking underground. You could still integrate nature in but get rid of that ugly surface car lot instead of window dressing it.
Having said that, I would love to pull up at this instead of the hideous, life-sucking environment of the Jantzen Beach Center Target store and its sea of asphalt I visited a couple weekends ago. There are empty buildings all over there, and to walk from Target to, say, Barnes & Noble or Old Navy next door, there's no place to go for a pedestrian except for over grass berms and along the asphalt right next to the cars. If they could clear out all the people and valuables first, I'd have no problem with them demolishing almost the entire Hayden Island shopping area and start over...with stuff like this (and connected by MAX).
You can read more about this winning commercial entry on the Greenworks site. Also, the winning entries for the competition were on display in the Bureau of Development Services at 1900 S.W. Fourth Avenue throughout April, and I believe they'll be shown somewhere else in May - more on that shortly.