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Enduring Partnerships

Historic preservation and green building have more in common than originally thought, as shown by these restoration projects in Portland, OR.

By Ralph DiNola, Associate AIA, LEED AP

Economic and environmental concerns have turned the nation’s attention to our existing building stock. The economic climate has investors less willing and able to make large capital investments in new construction, and the immense impact that existing buildings have on climate change has fueled a surge of improvements. With more than one million historic buildings recognized by federal and local governments, these structures are primed to be major players in today’s market. Sustainably rehabilitating these landmarks will ensure that they not only stand as testaments of our past but responsibly serve future generations.

One Size Does Not Fit All
There has been a perceived conflict between green building and historic preservation. Some believe that historic buildings cannot be sustainable because they are not energy efficient, require significant labor-intensive maintenance and, more specifically, preclude urban areas from increasing density. Historic preservationists are concerned that meeting energy efficiency requirements will destroy the historic building fabric and dictate the replacement of historic windows. But the intersection of historic preservation and green building does not have a prescribed set of rules. There are many different levels where the two can meet to achieve the aims of each movement. The key is to implement an integrated process from the outset. Three historic renovations in Portland, OR, that earned LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council demonstrate successful results from approaching each project on its own terms.

Ripple Effect
The Gerding Theater in the historic 1891 Portland Armory building attained a LEED Platinum award – the highest possible level of certification – for its sustainable rehabilitation. Situated in an emerging affluent urban district, the building was part of the five-block Brewery Blocks redevelopment, a portion of which sold for the highest value per square foot in Oregon’s history. The major redevelopment was a pivotal feature in transforming the Pearl District into a vibrant, 24-hour community.

The Gerding Theater was an adaptive reuse project that took a vacant building on the National Register of Historic Places and made it the new home of Portland Center Stage. Incentives were key to the project’s success. Historic and energy efficiency tax credits allowed the public/private partnership development team to leverage their investment in the $36.1 million project. Approximately 46 percent of the construction cost will be recovered through incentives. By carefully maintaining the rich historic character of the building, the project garnered federal Historic Tax Credits, and the receipt of New Markets Tax Credits further enhanced project financing.

Inside the castle-like exterior of the Romanesque Revival-style armory building, the rehabilitation emphasizes character-defining historic elements such as enormous bowstring lattice trusses spanning overhead and an exposed brick interior.

Making the 55,000-sq.ft. building into a state-of-the-art 600-seat theater demanded tremendous effort and intense collaboration. Communication and coordination with local, state and federal preservation agencies was essential. Engaging the authorities early and often throughout the design and construction process ensured that they understood the goals and worked to generate solutions that satisfied their concerns while meeting the project intent and earning the desired incentives.

Advanced computational fluid dynamics computer modeling was used to identify the most effective energy efficient systems, and the project incorporated innovative green building technology. A displacement ventilation system brings fresh air into the lobby and auditorium. Radiant floors in the lobby keep the voluminous space comfortable. Offices tucked under the roof plane receive natural light from skylights and chilled beams provide heating and cooling. From an energy standpoint, the project achieved 30 percent energy savings compared to ASHRAE 90.1 – 1999. Roof rainwater is collected in a 10,000-gal. subterranean cistern for reuse in plumbing. Combined with water-efficient fixtures, the project realized an 88 percent water saving. Site storm water is captured and diverted into storm water planters.

A public amenity in every sense, the Gerding Theater brings new vibrancy to the district, offers a living educational example of green features, and remains a beautiful historic landmark for citizens and visitors. The high-profile facility dramatically enhanced attendance at Portland Center Stage performances, which improves the theater company’s bottom line and offers the city a new space for cultural interaction.

A Little Persuasion
Portland’s Venerable Properties has been in the business of breathing new life back into Portland’s historic buildings since 1991. The concept of preservation itself is a sustainable one, as new materials, products and buildings require tremendous resources and energy to extract, transport, manufacture, install and dispose of at the end of their useful life. In addition to repairing buildings rather than replacing them, Venerable incorporates green features in their projects to save energy costs and minimize environmental impacts. The three-building White Stag Block redevelopment, however, raised the company’s interest in sustainability to a new level, and the renovation of the late-Victorian mill construction project earned a LEED Gold certification.

Venerable’s Historic Preservation Specialist Jessica Engeman says that the project’s anchor tenant, the University of Oregon, pushed its green building measures. “Going the extra mile for LEED Gold was really a tenant-driven exercise. Financially, it wasn’t a risk we were going to take on our own. Because the University of Oregon was willing to help shoulder some of the added costs, LEED Gold became a reality for this project,” explains Engeman. “We also realized that we could create synergy by attracting tenants with a building that expressed their values. We found that we were able to deliver a product that was not only sustainable but truly marketable.”

The original construction cost, including the majority of the build-out for the University of Oregon, was roughly $168 per square foot. The 137,000-sq.ft. project utilized both New Markets Tax Credits and Historic Tax Credits to assist with financing.

Through a combination of reuse, salvage and recycling, 98 percent of construction and demolition waste was diverted from the landfill. Rainwater from the roof area of the development is filtered and reused in toilets and urinals fitted with low-flow fixtures to lower the project’s water use by more than 85 percent. The development includes energy-efficient heating and lighting systems to minimize electricity loads. Green housekeeping practices will protect indoor air quality and tenants are encouraged to utilize green practices in their tenant improvement projects.

From an historic perspective, the project showcases the buildings’ high ceilings, cast-iron columns and exposed brick walls. Typical of many historic buildings, a light well was an original design feature at the block’s center to bring daylight into interior spaces. The renovation added a glass cover over the light well to create a usable light court, and two original saw-tooth light monitors were restored, providing architecture students in the university’s studio below a real-life example of daylighting and natural ventilation.

Off the Shelf
It’s true that green building technology has made great strides, but many of the most progressive sustainable redevelopments use standard building technologies in thoughtful applications. The first historic building in the nation to receive a LEED Gold certification was the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, The Ecotrust Building, Portland, OR. The renovation of this 1895 structure used daylighting, a zone-controlled mechanical system, and operable workspace windows for energy efficiency. A vegetated roof, bioswales and storm-water planters prevent rainwater runoff.

Another project that used standard building technologies is the American Institute of Architects Portland Center for Architecture. It is on track to receive LEED Platinum certification. Four split-system air conditioning units support a natural ventilation system to maintain set-point temperatures, and daylight dimming controls conserve energy. A cistern captures rainwater for sewage conveyance and irrigation.

Ahead of the Game
In 2002, when the green building movement was still relatively new, THA Architecture decided to move its offices. As a firm that promoted sustainable design and construction to its clients, THA recognized that a new workspace provided the opportunity to set an example. The firm teamed with a contractor to redevelop, own and occupy the 1913 Balfour-Guthrie building, an attractive 20th-century American Renaissance style warehouse that had been waiting for inspiration.

By making intelligent use of simple applications, the team achieved a high performance building that enhanced the historic elements. Capitalizing on the light from large windows facing north, west and south, THA cut out a large section of the first floor to create an open stairwell “atrium,” allowing daylight to cascade to the basement level.

Because the team worked to place the building on the National Register concurrent with the design effort, THA installed storm windows on the inside of the historic double-hung sash windows. The storm windows are removable, so employees can access the operable windows in the summer months for natural ventilation. The passive daylighting and ventilation strategies combine with a high-efficiency, low-cost residential HVAC system to lower energy use.

Initial modeling predicted the building would perform 25 percent better than code, but actual analysis after it had been occupied for three years showed that the energy use is 40 percent less than code baseline. The renovation cost $83 per square foot (in 2002 dollars). In the original project pro-forma, costs related to achieving LEED certification were revenue neutral because of the many financial incentives offered by the city and the state, but the cost of the project increased, including the costs related to sustainable measures.

“It was a pivotal moment,” says Jonah Cohen, principal at THA Architecture. “In the end, the four principals, who were also the building owners, took a deep breath and decided to get an additional loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to make up the difference. While it wasn’t an easy decision, we felt we had to practice what we had been preaching to our clients and this was very important to us as individuals and as a company.” The Balfour-Guthrie received a LEED Silver award, and Cohen says that by owning and occupying the building, THA has consistently reaped the benefits of low utility bills.

Because many historic buildings were constructed at a time when electric lighting and air conditioning didn’t exist, they already have many inherently sustainable qualities. Often, many of the original green building features have been obscured by insensitive renovations over the years. Restoring these features and integrating them with innovative sustainable strategies brings out the best in these treasures. When historic preservationists and green building advocates join forces, the partnerships result in more than better buildings, they elevate communities and create value for the future.  



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