BY BRIAN LIBBY
In the realm of sustainable American architecture, there is no greater honor than being named to the annual Top 10 Green Projects list, selected by the American Institute of Architects' Committee on the Environment. It's something only a few Portland buildings or Portland architects' works have achieved, and most of them have come in the past few years.
Two projects were named to last year's list, for example: Holst Architecture's Bud Clark Commons and the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building by Cutler Anderson (of Bainbridge Island, Washington) and SERA Architects. In 2012 the Mercy Corps headquarters by THA Architecture made the list, as did two out-of-town projects by local firms: Portland Community College's Newberg outpost by Hennebery Eddy Architects and the Hood River Middle School Music & Sciences building by Opsis Architecture. But before that, it was fairly rare to find something from the Rose City on the list, even though Portland has seen itself as a leader in sustainable design for over a decade.
This year, the Collaborative Life Sciences Building by Los Angeles firm CO Architects and Portland's SERA Architects has been named to the list. It's a validation for this latest addition to Oregon Health & Sciences University's Schnitzer Campus in South Waterfront (a collaboration with Portland State University and Oregon State University). The 650,000 square foot building, completed last year for about $295 million, had already earned Platinum LEED status for features such as green roofs, storm water collection for non-potable water, and energy-efficient lighting and climate control, making it about 45 percent more efficient than a comparably sized building designed to code.
The building is comprised of the 12-story Skourtes Tower on the north and a five-story south wing, which are connected by an atrium in the middle, along with lecture halls on the east and west sides. It includes lecture halls, classrooms labs, specialty research centers, OHSU School of Dentistry facilities, and offices for health professionals and educators from multiple institutions.
I'm not necessarily head over heels about how the CLSB looks from the outside, perhaps a bit like a banal office tower fused with oblong additions in three directions. But there was a lot of program to fit inside this building. And being inside the multi-story atrium, as a stream of students and faculty move about like some kind of academic/medical core sample, it still is a genuinely lovely space to behold. Given how it seems to work so well for its occupants, coupled with the building's environmental credentials, one has to call the CLSB a rousing success.
Recently I exchanged questions and answers with CO Architects principal Jonathan Kanda about being named to the COTE Top 10 list and what he takes away from the experience.
Portland Architecture: How did you react upon hearing the news that the CLSB was named to the COTE Top 10 list? Was it a surprise?
Kanda: Our team thought we had a very interesting sustainability story with the CLSB given the project’s size, programmatic complexity, and aggressive sustainability targets. But each year the bar gets raised on COTE submissions, so it’s always gratifying to win. The team is very pleased to be recognized!
Any building, green or otherwise, is the sum of many different components and design aspects, but what do you think sold the COTE committee on the decision to put the CLSB on the list?
All projects that receive COTE awards inherently perform high with regard to energy efficiency and the use/preservation of material resources. I believe the CLSB is one of the largest projects in the country to achieve LEED Platinum, but I’d like to think a few factors helped to distinguish the CLSB: The site has been remediated and resurrected from its industrial past, and it is situated at a multi-transit crossroads. In consideration of the environmental cost of getting to and from our buildings, the CLSB site gives its users and visitors every possible option to minimize their carbon footprint. It is a perfect marriage with the Portland urban ethos. But frankly, the core decision by the three university-owners to merge resources and build a shared, collaborative facility really elevated the sustainability narrative. Sharing, maximizing the utilization of space, and creating an adaptable, flexible building that can accommodate ever-changing curricular and pedagogical trends was the greenest decision of all. We’re starting to see more of these partnerships take hold.
What kind of feedback have you received so far from users of the building and other stakeholders?
We are pleased that the feedback from the users and stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive. A lot of the sustainability achievements go unnoticed or are simply woven into the daily experience. Users notice the public spaces, areas to gather, socialize, and build human relationships…and the light and views! Some of the views are truly extraordinary.
Have you received any data yet regarding how the building is performing, in terms of energy or otherwise?
The building has been operational for just under a year, so the analysis is still a work in progress. But so far, the building performance appears to be on track. From an energy standpoint, it is estimated to perform 45% more efficient than a typical building code facility.
Is there anything from this project that might constitute a lesson learned, or an advance that you might be able to apply to other projects?
As mentioned earlier, we are engaged in several projects that are supporting multi-institutional and interdisciplinary partnerships that leverage collaboration and maximize the sharing of human and physical resources. It’s like another form of passive sustainable design.
Could you talk a little about the partnership that CO and SERA had, and the complimentary skills the two firms had that helped the project become successful?
A project of this size, complexity, and ambition required the blended skills and expertise of two firms, and a partnership like none that I’ve experienced before. SERA had the native understanding of everything Portland: mindset, environment, design review and permitting process, codes, relationships with the AEC community, etc. Plus deep experience in building highly sustainable buildings in the Pacific Northwest. CO brought national programming and design expertise to this hybrid building type. We co-located in SERA’s office for several months, along with consultants, contractors, and owners.