Green heaven

I was at the National Preservation Conference in Portland, Oregon (Motto: It isn’t easy being green) last week and both the city and event impressed, even beyond the obvious Holy Grail of American microbrew. I went on a green preservation tour last Thursday through the Ecotrust building (The Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center), a century-old warehouse that was the first preservation project to gain LEED gold certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is very smart among the architectural set of late. Even though the re-use of an existing building would seem to be naturally environmentally efficient, the fact is LEED, like most things, tends to be geared toward new construction, even though the plurality of landfill waste is construction debris. The Ecotrust building managed to re-use 98.6% (!!) of the existing materials by creating a huge boneyard for every removed piece of building and then finding a use for it – doors became walls, beams became chairs, boiler covers became nameplates, etc., etc. The building handles 95% of its stormwater on site through swales and a permeable parking lot, has a green roof (German 2-3 inch design so the old building could handle the loads) and even the requisite seismic reinforcement.

Portland is an environmentalists dream with its streetcars (free downtown), vigorous recycling and cycling and urban growth boundaries (these were voted down a year ago but it is still not clear whether that will stick). New building plans automatically include bike lockers and showers. The Armory (we tore down all of those in Chicago – most recently for the MCA) is being rehabbed as a theater and is on track for LEED Platinum certification. They did passive smoke evacuation so they wouldn’t need extra generators and fans which would suck energy along with smoke.

Can you do that? I can’t. The architects were surprisingly modest about their achievements, aided by a radically sensible Oregon law that allows them to prove how efficient their solution is, rather than dictating the solution. Imagine a world where building code enforcement was guided by the intent and results of the law……

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