Let’s get this out straightaway: I thought the plan to put a living façade on the 18-story Edith Green–Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in downtown Portland, Ore., was swell, if for nothing else than the sheer scale of the project. And I love a well-done living wall.
Of course, once the price tag came in at $6 million for installation with annual upkeep costs of around $180,000, the idea was deemed nothing more than a great idea on paper. But there’s still hope for some eye-catching construction on the project.
As part of the overall $139 million overhaul—and I mean ripping the precast concrete façade right off—now underway by Seattle’s Howard S. Wright Constructors, the General Services Administration-owned building will still get an iconic look. While you won’t see any living wall draping the west face, do expect to see a bevy of aluminum rods, forming somesort of curtain on the building.
Kevin Kampschroer, director of the federal office of high-performance green buildings, says he knows the vegetated fins was a media darling, but the money was too big a risk to take.
Portland’s SERA Architects still wanted to turn the 35-year-old building into a haven of sustainability (this is Portland, after all) and are shooting for a platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. To achieve the desired shading, the aluminum—a highly reflective material—should still provide the 50 percent covering designers originally sought. Plus, the aluminum is more reliable than the plants, says Don Eggleston, president of SERA. If plants failed, the loss of shading would throw off the entire structure’s heating/cooling plan.
Solar panels on the roof will offset about 6 percent of the building’s overall consumption and the removal of the façade will facilitate daylighting throughout the structure. Coupling daylighting with new automatic lights, the GSA aims for a 40 percent reduction in energy use. Low-flow fixtures and rainwater capture should cut water consumption by 68 percent.
And in the spirit of all things Portland, what is getting removed from the building now—workers have started on the top floors and are moving down—will be recycled. Expect the precast concrete façade to show up in road construction projects and other bits and pieces of the facility—including carpet and doors—to land in locations around Portland for reuse.
While it may be most important to see how this new building actually performs once completed, what I’m most interested in is how this aluminum curtain turns out. Let’s be honest, I like iconic. And this could be iconic.