Nation’s Largest Living Building Is Coming to Portland

A team of Portland's heavy hitters has proposed a new five-story structure in Skidmore/Old Town that could be certified as Portland's first living building. The project team for the PAE Living Building includes Gerding Edlen, Walsh Construction, Downtown Development Group, PAE Consulting Engineers, and ZGF Architects.

The project seeks to meet all of the seven "petals" of the Living Building Challenge, a performance standard developed by the Portland-based International Living Future Institute. If it does, it will be the largest living building in the United States and only the second non-owner occupied commercial building.

The basic definition of a living building is one that generates more energy than it uses and collects and treats all water on site. Other aspirations are often added to this, such as a design that prioritizes the health of its occupants, uses non-toxic and sustainable materials, is aesthetically pleasing, and applies principles of environmental or social equity. Much like a living organism is the sum of its individual systems, a living building brings a wide range of environmentally forward-thinking building systems together into a comprehensive whole. A living building is the next step in certified green buildings, following on pioneers like the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard.

The construction industry is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. As we detailed in previous posts here and here, new technologies are appearing all the time that will help change that. A living building brings those technologies together to show that we can continue to thrive in a carbon-restrained future. The PAE project in particular will show that living buildings are no longer pet projects or demonstrations. Instead, commercial developers in an urban environment can now build living buildings that are financially viable. Just like with cross-laminated timber, a few early successes will hopefully open the floodgates and make living buildings an important component of our future built environment.