721 NW 9th Avenue
Portland, OR 97209
The Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center might be the area’s
“greenest” building. Indeed, it’s been certified
as one of the top “green buildings” in the country by
the US Green Building Council which has developed rigorous Leadership
in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED Standards to measure
a building’s environmental impacts. The standards award points
in a variety of categories; sustainable sites, water efficiency,
energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental
quality, and innovation and design process. The Natural Capital
Center received a Gold-level certification, the first historic building
renovation in the nation to achieve such a status. The building
was redeveloped by Ecotrust, a non-profit dedicated to building
a conservation economy in the temperate rain forest region along
the West Coast.
One of the reasons the Natural Capital Center scored so well is
its integrated, on-site stormwater management approach that according
to Ecotrust Programs Manager Sydney Mead processes 95% of its stormwater
The green approach starts at the top of the 1985 brick and timber
building with an ecoroof. The roof consists of two roofing membranes,
two inches of a custom soil mix, plants and mulch. While native
plants were initially used exclusively on the ecoroof, Mead says
that they did not do very well. “We had to tweak the initial
planting mix a bit” she said, “we’ve added a lot
more sedums to the mix and they have done great.” Two garden
clubs are helping with initial maintenance, and a group of interested
volunteers is conducing two monitoring studies on the roof’s
Vegetated swales receive roof runoff not captured by the ecoroof.
Planted with native plants and nicely integrated into the site’s
landscaping, the swales also provide nice bird habitat.
The parking lot contains the building’s largest expanse of
hardscaping – yet it too has been designed to maximize on
site stormwater infiltration. Permeable asphalt and permeable pavers
make up the majority of the parking area, which also drains to another
vegetated swale. All the parking spaces are compact, maximizing
parking efficiency, and minimizing impervious surfaces within a
small parking footprint.
The redevelopment project has scored big on a number of fronts.
One, the building is a revenue generator for the non-profit Ecotrust.
Two, nestled in Portland’s bustling Pearl District, the building
has become a “green building” tourist attraction. Almost
two years after it opened, free tours every Wednesday at noon still
attract 5-15 people. School groups from kindergarten classes to
graduate students have toured the site, as well as City officials
from throughout the metro region. Three, the building is working.
“We needed a green building, a sustainable building”
said Mead. “We got it.”