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Eco-friendly construction has grown beyond sustainability to now encompass both disaster resilience and people's well-being

COURTESY: SCOTT EDWARDS ARCHITECTURE  - Scott | Edwards Architecture designed Sequoia Mental Health Services with sustainability elements that include on-site stormwater retention, high-efficiency mechanical systems, Energy Star-rated appliances and low VOC materials.

Eco-friendly construction has expanded well beyond sustainability and now encompasses disaster resilience and the well-being of a building's occupants. Local designers and contractors say their clients are increasingly savvy about how they want their buildings to perform on these fronts.

Brian Purdy, RA, LEED AP, senior project manager with Siteworks Design-Build, said that, like the national conversation about disaster resiliency, Portland has obvious concerns about earthquake readiness due to its aging building stock. The city is pushing local mandates for owners of unreinforced masonry buildings to start the structural upgrade process to make those buildings safe for occupants and the community.

"While a difficult and complex political path, it is the absolute right approach for Portland. It will help maintain important older structures, some of which may not be deemed Architecture with a capital A but remain integral parts of our built community and neighborhood fabric," he said. "Measures like those also tie back to the ethos of sustainability we have in Portland."

Purdy noted that Siteworks seeks out projects that not only contribute to the improvement of the community, but do so using older buildings that may otherwise be torn down. Renovation and adaptive reuse projects are the pinnacle of building sustainably and sometimes that fact is lost in the green building conversation, he added.

"These types of projects are the jumping off point for all other sustainable and healthy building practices. We are seeing some good evidence of this in Portland, but at the same time we're still seeing the influence of quick and easy developments that are not considering good design, community-minded ethos or sustainably minded building practices. We still have some work to do in our city as we grow quickly. We have to continue to do so intelligently," Purdy said.

Dan Drinkward, vice president with Hoffman Construction, said resiliency is a predominant topic among designers and contractors alike and virtually every project discussion includes how a building will withstand a major earthquake.

"Various clients and organizations approach it from different ways, but everybody is talking about it," he said, adding the design of structural and mechanical systems is a primary concern.

Trend setting

In addition to resiliency, Drinkward said a growing number of clients are aware of the WELL Building Standard and other programs that explore how design and construction impact people's health and well-being.

"We're definitely seeing a trend toward focusing on the experience of the building occupants and particularly end-user occupants," he said, pointing out more owners of office buildings are looking at different ways of providing daylighting and temperature control to improve productivity.

COURTESY: SCOTT | EDWARDS ARCHITECTURE - The project encompasses Spruce Place Apartments, a HUD-subsidized residential facility for people with mental disabilities, with 15 residential units and a community connectivity center.

ZGF Principal Chris Chatto, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C, said sustainability is still the issue that is most well-understood by clients and, in turn, internalized in the design and construction sectors.

"Resiliency and wellness, while less utilized in terms of formal certifications, are interesting because they often have a strong value proposition for the client. Even in circumstances where ZGF is not pursuing a formal WELL or RELi certification, we engage local clients in opportunities for enhanced strategies," he said.

Chatto said clients are responding with growing interest to strategies that result in improved air quality and operational resilience. Whether the building will serve patients, students, employees or another population, improved air quality and operational resistance can increase the long-term value of a project and the health and well-being of occupants, and clients are requesting these certification systems as a result.

"One nascent trend is the movement to higher levels of performance beyond LEED. While LEED functions as the industry standard for environmental performance, it tops out around 50 percent savings for energy and water to maximize points, and its renewed focus on healthy material credit still needs to be met by the product industry," he said. "Now projects are going beyond, targeting net zero performance and/or the Living Building Challenge, the world's most stringent building certification system. ZGF has multiple projects using the Living Building Challenge's Red List to specify materials with no known human carcinogen, a task that is surprisingly and distressingly difficult in the industry."

Chatto said another strategy on the rise in terms of sustainable building materials is the use of carbon-sequestering wood such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glue-laminated timber to replace structural concrete or steel as the primary building structure.

"We're seeing an increase in regional projects that are leveraging CLT as a building strategy to reduce their carbon footprint," he said. "With CLT projects, we're noticing a trend in exposing the natural wood material to occupants in order to create a more biophilic interior."

Melisse Kuhn, an associate at Scott Edwards Architecture and leader of its "Sustainamitee," said the firm has seen a big push for manufacturers to provide greater transparency for interior and exterior architectural products. ScottArchitecture is among the approximately 30 firms that are part of the Portland Materials Transparency Collaborative, a network of building professionals dedicated to integrating full disclosure of material content as a performance benchmark in the way products are developed, designed and integrated into the built environment. The benchmarks include health product disclosure and environmental product disclosure.

Sid Scott, founding partner at Scott Edwards Architecture has implemented LEED guidelines in many projects over the last 15 years and is a disaster resiliency specialist. He said more project owners are understanding why sustainability, resiliency and human well-being represent a holistic approach to design and construction.

"People are seeing that you need to build better so buildings last longer and that is really the most sustainable thing you can do. You can do all the fancy green or environmental things, but if the project doesn't last or it gets wiped out during a disaster it's of no use so we're really seeing a push toward building better to last," he said. "Instead of designing for 20 years, design it to last 50 years or 100 years."


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