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Portland’s platinum high-rise

Mike Cote //November 1, 2010//

Portland’s platinum high-rise

Mike Cote //November 1, 2010//

On a Sunday night in Portland, Ore., people stream in and out of the lobby of Twelve West, a 23-story building that serves as headquarters for Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects. It seems like something special is going on – why else would twentysomethings be streaming in and out of an office building on a weekend?

At Twelve West, however, nothing is unusual about this scene. The young woman stepping outside to walk her French bulldog lives here. So do the people entering through the doors near the ZGF nameplate, unless they happen to be dining at the trendy restaurant on the first floor.

I discovered Twelve West by accident in September while wandering several blocks from The Nines hotel on my first night in Portland during the Denver Metro Chamber Foundation’s Leadership Exchange trip. I wanted to know what occupied that high-rise with the four wind turbines spinning atop the roof, especially since Portland is the U.S. home for Vestas, the wind energy company building its manufacturing operations in Colorado.

What I found was not the home of Vestas but a mixed-used building constructed to “Platinum” standards under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Twelve West – ranked among the 2010 Top Ten Green Projects by the American Institute of Architects – features such LEED energy-saving measures as natural daylighting, underfloor air, and radiant heating and cooling. The wind turbines on the roof produce about 1 percent of the building’s energy. Solar thermal panels heat 24 percent of the hot water used.

“This is a building where the aspirations we had as a tenant were high,” Bob Packard, managing partner at ZGF, told me after a social gathering of business leaders the next day. “The developer that was involved wanted to make it a special building, and the rest of the investment group wanted to make it a special building.”

Architects at ZGF wanted to work in a neighborhood that was 24/7, not in an office complex that shut down at 5 o’clock, Packard said: “The mix of uses in the building was a part of the way to make that happen, in addition to being in a neighborhood that is a real neighborhood, not just an office neighborhood.”

Portland prides itself on promoting the use of bikes, light rail, street cars and other forms of alternative transportation. More than half of ZGF’s 250 employees leave their cars at home, says Packard, who put only 1,800 miles on his car last year. He and his wife live four blocks from the office.

“We have more bikes coming in than we have room for so we’re beginning to convert some of the parking spaces that we have to bike parking,” Packard says.
The heavy use of bikes by the tenants in the 17 floors of apartments that sit above ZGF took the building’s developers by surprise. Five floors of underground parking were far more than what was needed, Packard said.

Such hiccups are to be expected when you’re designing sustainable buildings, says Packard, whose firm also worked on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8 headquarters in downtown Denver, which features one of the city’s first “green” roofs. Architects and the EPA collaborated with the Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University to plant shrubs that could absorb storm water.

“Everybody talks about how the green roof doesn’t work. The green roof on the EPA building always was going to be an experimental roof,” Packard says. “It’s a building where people are continuing to learn. That’s an important thing to remember when you’re doing these kinds of projects because you’re doing things that haven’t been done before.”

ZGF also designed The Children’s Hospital and is working on the 16th Street Mall renovation. Packard sees a strong link between Colorado and Oregon as they pursue sustainable design and urban renewal.

“One of the reasons I came back to Oregon to work after being in Colorado for a while is maybe it was a little bit ahead – in land-use planning, transportation infrastructure and so on, ” Packard said. “But I’m watching a rapid acceleration in Colorado to catch up and deal with those issues.”

Watch a video interview with Bob Packard at
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