Thursday, December 3, 2009

Case Study: The Casey Condominiums, Portland OR

Above: The Portland, Oregon based project became the world's first LEED-NC Platinum highrise condominium.
Copyright: Brightworks

By Jill Bellenger, CPH | Associate ASLA

When the Portland eco-powerhouses of Gerding Edlen Development and Brightworks Sustainability Advisors got together to create an opportunity for high end urban living, the end result was nothing short of groundbreaking. In 2006, The Casey Condominiums, a striking 16-story tower complete with a green roof above and underground parking below, became the world's first LEED Platinum highrise condominium.

The Casey features a broad range of sustainability-focused features including heat-recovery ventilation, photovoltaic solar panels, and finishes, paint and carpeting that eliminate occupant exposure to toxic chemicals found in conventional buildings, and extensive use of daylighting and natural ventilation. The building is also in good company in its hip urban locale. With Portland's Brewery Blocks urban development project located steps from The Casey, the neighboring area is absolutely teeming with sustainable architecture.

To discuss the project and its role in the future of residential design, I interviewed Chris Forney, Brightworks' lead project manager for the Casey Condominiums.

JB: It's becoming more common for municipalities and state governments to mandate a certified or Silver level of LEED certification for new buildings, but what do you believe to be the driving force behind going Platinum? How did it tie in with this particular project and client?

CF: Our approach on every project is to help our clients make meaningful progress toward "true sustainability". This starts with understanding the difference between "green", incremental improvements, versus "sustainable", a full system vision. Our client, Gerding Edlen Development has taken a bold stance in their commitment to sustainability. They have vowed to at least attempt for a LEED Gold certification on every building they develop and often aim for much higher targets. It is part of their company's ethos.

The driving force behind our projects that pursue or achieve Platinum is understanding that true sustainability is the goal and we have an urgent need, for our planet, to push as far as possible on every project to achieve sustainable or even regenerative designs. LEED Platinum projects are a result of that process. With Gerding Edlen and the rest of the Casey design team, we facilitated a process to define clear goals for a fully sustainable building: 100% renewable energy, only non-potable water for non-potable uses, all local materials. We then worked systematically to achieve as much as possible toward those goals within the resources available at the time. We, of course, did not achieve all those goals but if we had just set LEED Platinum as the 'ceiling' I doubt we would have come close to the results achieved on The Casey.

JB: What do you see as the future for residential building sustainability?

CF: Sustainable residential design is about restoring those connections which comprise a healthy, vibrant and successful community. People need access to other people, goods and services to live well. Transportation and land use are areas where we are seeing influence on more sustainable settlement patterns, specifically with residential building. Residential communities are incorporating mixed-use development and likewise residential developments are being built in predominantly commercial districts, to support a more diverse set of activities (live, work, play) that are not so dependent upon single occupancy vehicle travel.

Here in Portland, the concept of Eco-Districts is being pursued, to try and create energy, water and waste management solutions which are also much more resilient and less costly to operate than their larger municipal infrastructure counterparts. We are looking at incorporating urban agriculture into residential development, rebuilding the connection between people and where they get their food.

The future of sustainable residential buildings has to look beyond just the technical challenges of renewable energy or water efficiency and look holistically at what a fully sustainable community might look like. Residential buildings are an artifact of our daily being which is a much more complex and interconnected phenomenon than one would observe from the functions typically prescribed in a building design today. Development teams are becoming much more adept at recognizing these interrelationships and are learning how to more effectively collaborate with other disciplines to achieve a common goal, sustainability. This is a process we facilitate which is a rewarding challenge.

For more information on The Casey, please see Brightworks is an award winning Portland-based sustainability advisory service company with offices in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

For more information on Brightworks, please see


  1. I think that it is awesome that Portland is a leader in "Green Building" and kudos to Casey, Gerding Edlen and Brightworks. I especially like green roofs, they are beautiful to look at, and the environmentally sustainable option.

  2. What a stunning building this is. Informative article you have shared too.

    Angelo H


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