Portland, Oregon, Living Building Challenge, Office Building, Engineering, Architecture, Opportunity Zone, Rooftop Solar, Living Building, Graywater System
Last summer, Paul Schwer, a green mechanical engineer, met with Portland, Ore., Mayor Ted Wheeler to talk about a subject dear to himâ€”resilient structures for the earthquake-prone city. Those who donâ€™t know Schwer, president of PAE Consulting Engineers Inc., might question why a mechanical engineer would be asking a mayor for a city grant program to make new office buildings as quake-resistant as hospitals.
The answer involves Schwerâ€™s pet projectâ€”a 58,000-sq-ft speculative office building that started construction on April 1 in Portlandâ€™s Skidmore/Old Town historic district. The five-story PAE Living Building, named after its prime tenant, is on course to be the firstâ€”and the largestâ€”privately developed office building to be fully certified under the rigorous Living Building Challenge sustainability program of the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). And if it opens as expected in September 2021, it also will be one of very few developer buildings designed to survive a magnitude-7.5 quake with barely a scratch.
A resilient PAE building is attractive to Schwer because it would allow immediate reoccupancy after a quake, which would minimize business interruption. And as a prospective tenant, the mechanical-electrical-plumbing (MEP) engineer wanted seismic resilience. But both Schwer and PAE also had another reasonâ€”they have equity in the building. And to further the break with tradition, ZGF Architects and contractor Walsh Construction Co./OR also have stakes in the project.
Though drawn to the idea, Schwer says Wheeler turned down the request for grants for better seismic performanceâ€”mostly because the city coffers were dry.
Undaunted, Schwer pitched a wilder idea. After a major quake, PAE would vacate its three floors for six months so the city could move into the fully functional building and set up an emergency operations center. For the privilege, all the city had to do was pay the landlord an annual rent of $0.50 per sq ft. â€śI thought of this before COVID-19, when I didnâ€™t even know whether we could work remotely,â€ť says PAEâ€™s Schwer.
Again, Wheeler was intrigued but not swayed. Consequently, the PAE building team found another way to pay the $135,000 premium to stiffen the structure.
Ordinary office buildings are required to have an 8-in. seismic jointâ€”an air space between the exterior wall and the property line so that swaying neighbors do not collide in a quake. But the stiffer PAE building would only sway as much as 4 in. at the roof. That allowed a 4-in. joint along the two affected sides of the building. That in turn facilitated a larger floor plate, which increased leasable spaceâ€”enough to cover the premium.
Seismic resilience isnâ€™t the PAE buildingâ€™s only rare feature with a premium. The $40.2-million building also will contain the first commercial installation in the Americas of a system that turns nutrient-rich urine into agriculture-grade fertilizer. â€śWe are taking the pee out of PAE,â€ť says Kathy Berg, a ZGF principal.
If successful, the nutrient recovery system could serve as a model for liquid waste treatment in terminals, sports facilities, amusement parks and moreâ€”relieving strain on wastewater treatments plants, says Harold Leverenz, co-founder, with Russell Adams, of Advanced Environmental Methods LLC (AEM), which developed the system, called AmmPhotek.
â€śWe are decentralizing fertilizer production. How game-changing is this?â€ť asks Pete Munoz, practice lead for Biohabitats, the PAE buildingâ€™s water infrastructure engineer and the person who suggested the system.
Living Buildings Cost More
Exotic systems, such as rooftop solar and onsite water and wastewater treatment, may make Living Buildings independent, but they also make them 20% to 25% more expensive. The PAE building is expected to cost $435 per sq ft. That compares to about $314 per sq ft for an ordinary building, says Ed Sloop, Walshâ€™s chief estimator-project manager.
The premium for rainwater-to-potable water, composting, graywater and nutrient recovery alone is $1.25 million of a $25.2-million hard cost. And though public utility bills are low or nonexistent, there are costs associated with maintaining the systems.
During design, the pro forma ruled. Finding ways to pay for the exotic systems was a near-constant exercise for the investors, which also include d