Portland is often called the greenest city in America, its new architecture included. Now three daring new office buildings—Twelve West by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects (ZGF), Ziba headquarters by Holst Architecture, and bSIDE6 by Works Partnership Architecture—have brought this local ethos to commercial construction, a function of the city’s increasing popularity with creative workers.
stephen A. Miller
Each of the buildings boasts a long list of sustainable checkpoints, and they’re all in the process of applying for a rating of LEED Gold or higher. The 23-story Twelve West boasts hot-water-heating solar panels, a ceiling-integrated chilled water cooling system, and a storm water retention system that diverts more than half a million gallons of runoff to watering the landscaping and flushing the toilets. Four building-integrated wind turbines generate electricity on site, and planted terraces covering half of the roof increase insulation values. The result is a mixed-use building that uses 40 percent less energy than comparable structures. The ground floor will be dedicated to retail, ZGF will occupy the four floors above, and the remainder will be given to 277 apartments.
Nearby sits Ziba, a clean black box floating on a ground-story plinth of cumaru wood. Steel panel siding is placed in a chevron pattern, giving an otherwise simple building a textural overlay and refracting sunshine subtly off the panel’s angles. Inside, the building is similarly unadorned. “It’s not a gilded building; there aren’t any extraneous materials,” said architect Cassidy Bolger of Holst. Ninety-five percent of post-construction waste was recycled.
Across the river, the sleek seven-story bSIDE6 features ribbons of black steel that wrap around a skin of glass. The architects’ green goals centered on using as few materials as possible in construction. The frame is concrete, chosen because of its durability and ready availability, as well as its thermal mass. Rainwater is entirely handled on site, directed into pipes and gravel under the foundation. Inside, there are few finishes. The ductwork, electrical wiring, and pipes are exposed, and the only drywall appears in a scant few panels that act as office dividers and define the nine window bays that project out from the building.
What’s perhaps most notable about these buildings is their broader definition of sustainability. “In Portland, sustainability is more than a prescriptive checklist,” said Scott Lewis, CEO of sustainable consulting firm Brightworks. “It’s about a holistic approach to building that includes a social component.” Rather than the traditional hierarchical layout of private offices and cube farms, “a lot of people in Portland want to work in more of an experimental, open, non-cube environment,” explained Bolger.
At Ziba, for example, a design company that creates products both for Microsoft and for Target, designers gather at long tables, interspersed with glassed-in meeting rooms, to reflect the collaborative nature of their work. An 86-foot-long wall of glass runs the length of the building, so all employees are bathed in natural light.
This broader view of sustainability extends to the siting of each building. Twelve West stands in Portland’s West End, a somewhat neglected neighborhood of single-family housing, grocery stores, and small businesses. bSIDE6 is on lower Burnside, a rather gritty thoroughfare. Ziba occupies a former brownfield site. The architects of each building hope new construction can invigorate what are otherwise slowly developing neighborhoods, a sustainable goal that reaches far beyond your basic accumulation of LEED points.