World's Largest Mixed-Use Living Building Opens


Engineering firm PAE, alongside ZGF Architects and other members of a partnership collective, recently announced the opening of the PAE Living Building in Portland, Oregon.

According to reports, the sustainably designed structure is the world’s largest commercial building to achieve the full Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification from the Seattle-based International Living Future Institute (ILFI). The building is also the first-ever LBC project developed and funded as a speculative office building through the standard commercial real estate development model.

The PAE Living Building was privately funded and developed via a partnership between ZGF, Downtown Development Group, PAE, Edlen & Co.,Walsh Construction Co. and Apex Real Estate Partners.

About the LBC Standard

Since its inauguration by the Cascadia Green Building Council in 2006, the ILFI notes in its latest edition of the Living Building Challenge (LBC 4.0) that the certification has inspired and motivated rapid and significant change.

The updated standard is based on two goals: to simplify the program so the level of effort of teams is better aligned with their impacts at project and market scales; and to fill the gap between the highest levels of mainstream green building certifications.

In LBC 4.0, the ILFI reportedly took lessons learned from the first 100+ certified projects and the first 500 registered projects in the program to achieve these goals, and that can also adequately address ongoing radical changes in the built environment.

“This standard is an act of optimism and belief that with the right tools in the hands of passionate, sensitive individuals, a revolutionary transformation is possible,” wrote ILFI. “It is a program that asks us to think holistically and to engage both our right and left brains, head and heart.”

LBC 4.0 is organized into seven performance—also referred to as “Petals”—areas:

  • Place: Restoring a healthy interrelationship with nature;
  • Water: Creating developments that operate within the water balance of a given place and climate;
  • Energy: Relying on only current solar income;
  • Health + Happiness: Creating environments that optimize physical and psychological health and wellbeing;
  • Materials: Endorsing products that are safe for all species through time;
  • Equity: Supporting a just and equitable world; and
  • Beauty: Celebrating design the uplifts that uplift the human spirit.

Each LBC Petal is subdivided into 20 Imperatives focused on a specific sphere of influence, which requires every element in the building to serve multiple purposes.

In short, ILFI shares that Living Buildings are regenerative structures that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature and community. The building should also be self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of its site. In addition, a certified Living Building should also create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.

Apart from this, the Institute reports that Living Building Challenge projects consist of both new construction and renovation projects—including historic preservation. From new construction and existing buildings to interior and landscape or infrastructure projects, applicable building sectors include single and multifamily residential, commercial, institutional, medical and laboratory.

As of April 2019, ILFI reported that the Living Building Challenge logged 563 registered projects in 29 countries.

To download the full standard, click here.

PAE Living Building Project

Built to last more than 500 years, the five-story, 58,000-square-foot mixed-use PAE Living Building was first reported to break ground in early 2020 and was initially slated to open in the summer of 2021. The building is in Portland’s historic Old Town / Skidmore district.

During construction efforts, in April 2020, ZGF told The Architect’s Newspaper that the structure “tells the story of Portland: aspirational, progressive, and yet deeply rooted in Pacific Northwest history.”

According to Kathy Berg, Partner, ZGF, “The design team spent considerable time thinking about the building’s responsibility to the broader Northwest landscape, the waterfront and the Willamette River. The result is a building rooted in Pacific Northwest history that also answers the demand for a drastically more sustainable future.

“Its quality, resiliency, and systems are designed to address the severity of the future climate challenges we face.”

Throughout the project, engineers from PAE oversaw technology, mechanical, electrical and plumbing system designs to ensure onsite water capture, as well as onsite and offsite solar arrays capable of producing 110% of the electricity needed via a PV-powered battery storage system with two-way power connection to the city’s utility network and the electrical grid.

For the rainwater capture system, greywater treatment, nutrient recovery and a five-story vacuum flush composting system, the team installed a 71,000-gallon cistern. By producing liquid fertilizer and agriculture-grade compost onsite, the circular system uses no city water and offers another income source for the building owners.

On PAE’s website, the company wrote that “The PAE Living Building embodies our vision to help solve the planet’s energy and water challenges. As the world’s first developer-driven Living Building, the five-story, mixed-use building demonstrates replicable and cost-effective solutions for sustainable design and removes barriers to entry for highly sustainable projects all while enhancing the neighborhood and acting as a regenerative ecosystem.”

PAE went on to note that the project utilized 2,737 material items vetted to be red list-free and diverted 1,198 tons of materials from a landfill for construction. Through the use of operable windows, 100% healthy materials and a mass timber structural core, the commercial facility was able to reduce its embodied carbon by 30%.

“We are thrilled to deliver Portland’s first Living Building,” said PAE President Paul Schwer in a statement. “Our building shows that sustainable, replicable solutions for our environment are optimal for everyone, from our community to our investors. This project meets the climate goals of our state and our country 30 years ahead of schedule.”

Over the next 12 months, the PAE Living Building will record, track and report its performance data in accordance with the requirements outlined through each Imperative and Petal. It is expected to earn a full Living Building Challenge certification in the summer of 2023.   


Tagged categories: Building design; Carbon footprint; Certifications and standards; Color + Design; Color + Design; Commercial / Architectural; Commercial Buildings; Construction; Design; Good Technical Practice; Green design; Living Building Challenge; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Projects - Commercial

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