Going Green

Oregon Health Sciences University Health & Healing Center

"Green is the new red, white and blue."
-Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist and author

The Green Revolution has been one of the great anthems of the past two decades, making its presence known in nearly all facets of daily life. From energy efficient vehicles, light-bulbs, and appliances to innovations in water usage and treatment, the tide is turning as 'green' goes mainstream. The new Oregon Health Sciences University's Health & Healing Center in Portland ambitiously sought to integrate 'green-building' alongside cutting-edge medical technology to attain US Green Building's highest LEED rating available: Platinum. Acting as a supporting role to achieve this special designation, 9Wood partnered with 2006 CISCA award-winning acoustical subcontractor Western Partitions Inc. and manufacturer's rep Jerald Schwarz of Schwarz & Assoc. to deliver one of the largest installed certified-wood ceilings in the US.

As one walks the new concrete streets of Portland's South Waterfront district and sees the Portland Streetcar roll by, it is hard to believe that this area had long been a veritable urban wasteland. For years it forlornly gazed upon nearby urban renewal projects springing up around it. Attractively placed near the Willamette River and near the West Side's city center, it offered an ideal site for expansion and development. It was only a matter of time before it dawned upon developers that it was prime real estate.

In time, just over $2 billion saw its way into a refurbishment plan for the four-city block area, with the cornerstone being the new OHSU Health & Healing Center, designed by GBD Architects of Portland. The new center would be connected to the main OHSU Hospital and Campus on the hill via a Swiss-made aerial tramway whisking passengers over a half-mile in just 3 minutes. It was the planners' intention that this would become a center of urban growth and activity, but was it to be a "healing" of the south waterfront?

At the heart of the plan was the new OHSU H&H Center. Boasting such innovations as a bio-reactor to treat wastewater on site, and super energy-efficient systems, the 400,000-square feet (SF), 16-story building aspired for the LEED Platinum rating. If achieved it would become the largest building in the US to receive it. Architect Russ Hale, Associate Principal of GBD Architects, pointed out that the underlying intent of going for LEED Platinum was really about bringing good natural resource stewardship together with the goal of physical health and healing. "The whole concept is about not putting waste into our environment. The owner knew it would cost more at the outset, but like a hybrid vehicle, they would be 'repaid' in the future in the way of many benefits."

Such high LEED standards necessitated planning considerations of every detail — especially materials — to meet the stringent requirements. A sizeable component to the interior finishes included the 24,000 SF Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified Wood ceiling. Upon fabrication, the 6-member, solid FSC Hem-Fir Crosspiece Grilles with black reveal scrim were to be installed on eight of the sixteen floors, in addition to several custom modules in the main lobby. Architect Hale commented, "The wood ceiling helps the character of the building. It softens it to make it more 'residential' compared to an institutional feel. The Grilles have the desired 'directional-linearity' while allowing air-flow between the slats. The reveal was necessary for some of the innovative technology in the building that depended on it." Hale also pointed out that the directional-linearity of the Grille members were laid-out in a way to give the visitors a sense of "flow" in and out of the different levels and departments.

9Wood's involvement in the project began in the latter half of 2005. Working with WPI, Hoffman, and GBD Architects the challenge was to find solutions to meet the strict LEED requirements. The selection of 9Wood as the manufacturer was bolstered by its geographical location in Springfield, which was within the 500 mile radius required for the LEED MR-5.1/5.2 Locally Extracted, Processed, and Harvested credit. 9Wood's Leo Batenhorst (OHSU Project Manager) reflected on this regional advantage that had another benefit: communication. "Being so close, it allowed us to talk consistently, visit the site regularly, and coordinate to share information. We had cooperation from everyone — the architect, GC, and sub. Typically our jobs are 500 to 3,000 miles away, so the close proximity helped a lot toward the success of the project."

A special challenge to the project was finding a source of wood within 500 miles that would meet the design intent, budget, and volume necessary to complete the job. Charley Coury, 9Wood's General Manager, worked with key supplier Lee Jimerson of the Portland-based Collins Wood Co., the first American forest products company to be FSC-certified (1993). Coury identified and proposed solid FSC Hem-Fir as a candidate since the trees were harvested in Chester, CA — approximately 400 mi. from Portland. It met the availability, aesthetic, and budgetary requirements. Incidentally, for Jimerson, the project would turn out to be something special once completed. "From the building's 16th Floor Dermatology Dept., you can actually see our main office! It's a special thing that we can walk a few blocks to show potential customers the interior of the building and stimulate future interest in FSC material in that way."

In terms of the installation challenges, it was WPI's assignment to ensure the project stayed on schedule, especially with all the new technology and fixtures to work around in the ceiling. For example, the building featured a state-of-the-art "chill beam" that uses water and air flowing over it to naturally set the equilibrium of the building temperature, thus reducing the reliance on standard climate control. Like the body's central nervous system, the chill beam runs through each floor, however it is located in different places in the ceiling. This forced the t-grid and Grille lay-out to be different on each floor, thus requiring extensive field measurements to give precise factory-cutting.

"The GC played a big part in ensuring our products came from the right place and were manufactured in the right place," commented WPI's Ryan Wilson, Project Manager. Upon receiving WPI's field measurements for each of the levels, batches of the freshly factory-cut Grilles were crated and shipped to allow a continuous stream of material flowing northward to the jobsite. This meant approximately 3,000 SF of ceiling material were delivered every other week for each of the 8 levels, totaling 24,000 SF. Regarding this sizeable task, 9Wood's local rep Jerald Schwarz commented, "Acquiring the field measurements in time to run the production was a huge challenge, in addition to working around the chill beam." Leo Batenhorst of 9Wood pointed out that some custom panels and field-cuts required backers to be attached in the field by WPI's installers.

Installation wrapped up in the summer of 2006. By accounts of all parties involved, the ceiling project went well considering the special nature of it and all the special field measurements and coordinate needed for each floor. According to GBD's Russ Hale, "the ceiling turned out great." He believes the Pacific Northwest mentality has long been "ahead of its time" in terms of how it has embraced green-building, and this mentality helped facilitate the process and bring everybody on board at the outset to complete the Platinum project.

The OHSU building officially opened on Dec. 3, 2006 to much fanfare and excitement in the civic, medical, and architectural communities. The project represents a special accomplishment in the very simple fact that Platinum status is a rare and difficult accolade to achieve. In addition the building acts as a cornerstone of rejuvenating a formerly barren district of Portland. To help make this a reality, the manufacturing and installation of the massive certified-wood ceiling played an important role in not only the tangible quantifiable figures for the LEED equations (weights, values, etc.) but also for its aesthetic and visual attributes. Lee Jimerson of Collins Wood sized up the project by stating, "This project was the epitome of what FSC is all about. It was the largest project in the history of our company using FSC Hem-Fir for a wood ceiling application, and it's really neat that this project will help advance the cause in the future."

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