Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wonderful Renewable Wood in High-Performance Buildings

Instead of breaking down a number of buildings in single post, today we expand on just one. The building, located in Portland, Oregon, has gained some popularity since 2015 by capturing several sustainability awards. Only having time to return to the subject now, I wanted to focus on three characteristics of the project: It's form. It's materials. and it's sustainability goals. 

The story of this building doesn't stray far from the city of itself and represents how regionally specific modern architecture can be compared to how we think of it as an international style. With the design team led by local-firm Holst Architecture, they set out to be visually ambitious. On that account, I think they were successful, having established the project's architectural value through awards and commentary. Official literature for the project states Antoni Gaud√≠ as an influence but I also see a final form that's classically modern and will age well. The touches of local and regional materials and expertise throughout is great. The warm texture of the wood is timelessly inviting but the deeply inset windows on the exterior create a delicate balance on the exterior. From all the pictures of this building these apertures look very well detailed. In addition, I suspect they help support the quality of the interior daylight. There are three buildings placed on the site, all of exceptionally high performance, but only two share the characteristic curvilinear form. The use of sustainable timber continues inside with its use featured in the open and spacious common areas of the two buildings. The project also has a large outdoor courtyard spearheaded by landscape architect Lango Hansen. Its contemporary style is inviting and I appreciate the design's use of regionally appropriate plants. But it's that renewable facade that draws the eye from blocks away that bares some critical thought.

A good reference point for sustainable wood products in the AEC industry is the widely known Forestry Stewardship Council. On the One North project, the clients and architect were committed to pushing beyond that industry certification. In the end, the project (in coordination with the general contractor) sourced materials privately and independently from a local landowners cooperative organized just for the project. Though not reclaimed, the wood is all 2nd-growth, which means no centuries old ecosystems were disturbed to secure its procurement. 

Industry sustainability certifications absolutely have a role. There are economies-of-scales to be leveraged within the industry by pre-qualifying products and streamlining the certification process. However, this economic structure in some ways disincentives organizations from attempting to go above and beyond, retarding an engine of improvement and advancement within the AEC industry. It took leadership to decline industry-specific certifications and real skill to execute a world-class sustainability program nonetheless. I really discourage any suggestion sustainable architecture is a paint-by-numbers affair. Here we see an example of a multidisciplinary project establishing a high performance mark with great artistic merit. The power of metrics and certifications is derived from the motivation to improve the state of sustainable architecture. That's the proper perspective on such information. Engaging the fundamental drive of a group to build excellence architecture seems like a much more valuable characteristic to harness, from there the tiniest details of sustainable design can be placed. 
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