A couple weeks ago the American Institute of Architects' Committee on the Environment released its annual Top Ten Green Projects list.
As described by the AIA, the program "celebrates projects that are the result of a thoroughly integrated approach to architecture, natural systems and technology. They make a positive contribution to their communities, improve comfort for building occupants and reduce environmental impacts through strategies such as reuse of existing structures, connection to transit systems, low-impact and regenerative site development, energy and water conservation, use of sustainable or renewable construction materials, and design that improves indoor air quality."
Considering that Portland has often been called the nation's greenest city, and at various times we've had the most LEED-rated projects in the nation, you'd think we'd be all over this list, either the new one or past lists of the top 10 green projects. Actually, though, that's not the case at all.
This year's AIA/COTE Top 10 honors projects in New York, Pennsylvania, Boston, Seattle, Wisconsin and elsewhere. But there's not one project from Portland. And if you look back at past years of COTE lists, Portland has hardly any presence at all.
Last year, the Gerding Theater at the Armory by GBD Architects (pictured above) received an Honorable Mention, but still failed to crack the 2007 Top 10 list despite being one of the nation's first ever LEED Platinum rated historic renovations. A Eugene project with an assist from a Portland firm was on the list, the Morse US Courthouse, but legendary architect Thom Mayne is really the auteur of that project, not DLR Group.
In 2006, a Portland project indeed made the list, the Lloyd Crossing Sustainable Design Plan, but it wasn't a work of architecture and it wasn't from a Portland firm (the designer was Mithun of Seattle). 2004 had no Portland firms or projects on the list, nor did 2003. In 2002 the modest but very sustainable Bank of Astoria in Manzanita by Oregon coast architect Tom Bender made the list, but that's still not Portland. The awards began in 1997, but if you go all the way back to the beginning, there is still no accolade for local firm or project.
Meanwhile, our northern neighbors in Seattle are all over the COTE Top 10 list almost every time. This year's list includes the Discovery Center at South Lake Union in Seattle by local firm Miller/Hull Partnership, as well as the Pocono Environmental Education Center by Seattle firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. Miller/Hull, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Mahlum Architects and Mithun, all from the home of the NFL's Sea-turkeys, each have multiple AIA/COTE Top 10 finishes: Mithun for two different REI stores and the Puget Sound Environmental Learning Center, Miller Hull for this year's Lake Union project as well as past list-makers the Bainbridge Island City Hall and Pierce County Environmental Services, and even Mahlum has both Ben Franklin Elementary in Kirkland and and a building at Evergreen State College in Olympia.
So here's the question: Does the history of the COTE top 10 show that Portland is over-rated as a green building city, that it's under-recognized, both or neither? I think of landmark sustainable projects here like GBD's Center For Health and Healing at OHSU, a LEED Platinum rated design that's a whopping 50% more energy efficient than code, which is stunning for such a big building. Or the Ecotrust Natural Capital Center in the Pearl. Or the net-zero energy Rose House by SERA Architects. Or the Brewery Blocks. They're all supposed to be leading-edge sustainable projects. Are they not? Or if they are, why aren't they on the list?
Then again, maybe it's just the nature of awards and lists. I mean, other than maybe this year and a few other exceptions, the Academy Awards almost never pick the right film for Best Picture. Rocky over Taxi Driver? Oliver over 2001: A Space Odyssey? Crash over...anything? Even Kevin Costner has a Best Director Oscar and neither Alfred Hitchcock nor Orson Welles ever got one. 'Nuff said.
Even so, I'm curious whether people think COTE ignores Portland, or whether we're not as special as we think.