Federal Stimulus Will Fund Portland’s 250-foot-tall Green Wall

The west side of the 18-story Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building is getting a 250-foot-tall green wall, writes The Washington Post. The western wall is also 150 feet long, making the expanse about “three-quarters the size of an NFL playing field, minus the end zones.” The federal building’s new wall is part of a $135 million remodeling mostly funded by federal stimulus funds. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) (see earlier post on GSA’s Design Awards) seeks to create a “landmark high-performance building.” According to The Washington Post, it’s the largest stimulus project in Oregon.

SERA Architects, the design firm for the building, will create seven vertical “vegetated fins” that will “jut at acute angles.” The fins act as a trellis and provide the foundation for the plantings.  The architects are still working out which plants will grow well 250-feet in the air, and how to fertilize, water, and prune at those heights. High-rise pruners may be deployed in the same way skyscrapers get window washers. Additionally, rainwater will be collected on the roof and an elaborate irrigation system will water the wall.

The wall helps create a new look for an unloved “modernist, International style” federal building created in the 1970’s. In addition to removing and replacing the facade, the GSA will add new energy-efficiency features: “Elevators that generate electricity on the way down, solar arrays on the roof, smart lighting systems that adjust to the daylight available, using some of the collected rainwater to flush toilets.” Construction is expected to take 30-40 months.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities told The Washington Post: “The GSA has been a real leader in the use of green roofs and walls. It’s nice to see the government leading by example.”

Read the article and see the FedBizOpportunities details about the project.

Also, check out a book by Patrick LeBlanc, a green wall artist, who’s Athenaeum Hotel in London features a rich 8-story tall green wall (see earlier post).

Image credit: Baumberger Studio / SERA Architects / GSA

7 thoughts on “Federal Stimulus Will Fund Portland’s 250-foot-tall Green Wall

  1. David C. Racker, FASLA 01/28/2010 / 7:45 pm

    Take a lot of pictures of this project. If it materializes as described it will be a favorite in the Landscape Architecture Hall of Shame.

    Developers tout their efforts here as creating a “landmark high-performance building.” This “Green Wall” will, in reality, create a landmark high-maintenance building. I bet the Tall Building Window Washer Union boys can hardly wait to weigh in on the lucrative service contracts this project will need to maintain, prune, fertilize, mulch and replenish soil, and so forth. Normally, the idea for THIS 18 story Green Wall would have been met with a wink and a smile and left on the conference room white board where it belongs. This one will likely see fruition because it’s estimated cost of $135 Million will come from no other than a GSA Obamacare Stimulus Package.

    As a profession why do we celebrate an obscene public project like this. Are we stewards of the environment or not? We pump water to drinking fountains and collect sewage from restrooms much higher than this 18 story (250’) building because people work there. Providing the same for several hundred thousand pampered plants will be one case history to behold. Just because a hair brain concept like this may be possible to build, it’s contribution to environmentally sound design and architecture is non existent, thus shouldn’t be built.

    The noted seven fins are to be like trellises the article states, but in reality they will be structures to hang planter boxes on much like the John Portman Hotels from the early to mid 70’s are. If you’ve seen any of them lately they have failed as “hanging gardens” both exteriors and exteriors for reasons related to unwieldy maintenance cost. Roots belong in the ground not in the air. You want vegetation 250 feet high? Choose Giant Sequoias

    Are landscape architects not worried about maintenance costs? Then how can we with a straight face, espouse Environmental Awareness and Sustainability? Just how can this stimulate the nations economy? Why not celebrate a project to restore bio-diversity to Haiti or a project that contributes to the health, safety and welfare of human beings instead of this arrogant demonstration of architectural and or horticultural prowess meant to offset some make believe carbon footprint? If completed as described, it will stand for generations in landscape architecture’s Hall of Shame.

    • heather barber, asla 02/03/2010 / 11:37 am

      I too see a large amount of waste going into this process, however how will it ever be improved upon or decidedly cost prohibitive unless tried…perhaps in a different way, I agree. As a supporter of the concept of the green roof and green wall, perhaps the intent should be seated in the context of the sustainable rewards, not for the sake of doing it.

      The Portman hotels of the 70’s were created well within their context of the time, not purely for the topology of 2009-10. In the 70’s(and some done in the late 60’s) it was cutting edge/progressive, thoughtful design for an evergrowing dense urban setting. If the Landscape Architect, who happens to be my father, had hesitated on the idea that this was best left on the white board in Portman’s offices, the idea would have died and not been open for building or improvement.

  2. Charles Brenton 01/29/2010 / 8:45 am

    My initial reaction to this idea is much the same. I would be curious to learn how this proposal measures against performance criteria such as LEED and Sustainable Sites. There is so much need for basic restoration efforts in our landscape. That said, I don’t think it’s fair to blame this on President Obama. The stimulus is sponsoring a lot of great projects.

  3. Tim Austen 02/02/2010 / 12:50 pm

    Would be that we had such a project to debate here in Ireland!

    I, for one, am wholly behind efforts to green our grey cities but there seems to be a lot of “eco-spin” attached to this project. We do need to balance the cosmetic-fix approach with strong consideration for the environment and our relationship with it. It will be interesting to see if the project team take on board the criticism and try to develop as self-sustaining a plant system as possible.

  4. j t olmsted 02/03/2010 / 6:24 pm

    I agree with Heather and alot of what David states. There will be many obsticles(and costs) to work out, but the point is missed. It’s a relatively progressive approach, though a brazenly obvious manifestation of “Green” cities. My intial reaction would be to plant Kudzu at the base of the structure….or any number of vigorously growing vines….but if combined with the technology Valcent Products Inc. has developed, perhaps this will lead to a better way of accomplishing the goal of reducing the negative environmental impact of vast expanses of concrete, steel and glass….(though quite impressive don’t you think?) We are a young bunch of fools who just learned to fly. Some day we might even stop killing each other. But until then, lets celebrate Art and the belittled people who dare to create it for other to redicule Even da Vinci was inspired by something…?

  5. Charles Brenton 02/10/2010 / 11:34 am

    Maybe, this conversation is a learning opportunity for me. Is it the vertical elevations of concrete, steel, and glass that create the environmental impacts, or the horizontal spread of roofs and pavement? Efficient heating and cooling of the building facade is a good thing. Will the proposed wall contribute to this goal in a cost effective way?

    Landscape architects need to be thinking about performance as well as styling.

  6. Liz Kirchner 02/10/2010 / 1:12 pm

    Coating cities with plants isn’t just flash and spin – it’s what we’re all working toward. I wonder why nobody is talking about how Green Walls would (and should) actually work.

    Beyond the by-now-obvious heating/cooling benefits of coating every surface with an appropriate, no-maintenance living thing, do you not envision swarms of graduate students monitoring The Ecosystems of the 14th floor?

    Do you not see engineers and horticulturalists developing algae-filled glass block that not just coat the building, but ARE the building: harvesting sunlight, gobbling CO2, generating O2, and being harvested as biofuels, fodder, or as something lettuce-y to be served downstairs?

    Botanists, ornithologists, entomologist, agronomists and construction superintendents have roles in this reinvention of both landscape and architecture.

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