Decoding Design

In Portland, can a gas station become the next Living Building?

In Portland, can a gas station become the next Living Building?

Posting in Design

An abandoned gas station in Portland neighborhood has been renovated into a smart, eco-friendly community center. Will it reach its goal of Living Building status?

OREGON- You've seen them: decrepit, abandoned, rusted gas stations. Largely due to the decrease of gasoline sales, the old style stations are slowly being abandoned or replaced with the convenience store model in hopes of boosting profits.

One of these 1960s-style stations(above) was rotting in a Northeast Portland neighborhood until a sorority decided to harness wasted property for the good of the community. The Portland chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority raised funds for and bought the land-- setting out to revamp the building. They proposed a community center, but not just any neighborhood community center. The group is determined to make the finished product into a Living Building.

With the help of architect Mark Nye, the station skeleton was renovated with two recycled containers and a lot of recycled glass to make a pretty outstanding building: the June Key Delta Community Center.

Living Building Challenge standards are very hard to meet. The Challenge is at once a "philosophy, advocacy tool and certification program that addresses development at all scales." Sites are evaluated on performance areas that include sit, water, health, energy, materials, equity and beauty.

The purpose of the Living Building Challenge is to "diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions." All prospective sites must aim to create energy, treat its own storm water and be zero waste.

According to Treehugger's AK Streeter, this challenge is harder than one might imagine. Only three buildings have actually been granted Living Building certification, and the June Key Delta Community Center hopes to be next.

The June Key Delta designers have converted two cargo containers into useable space, one contains the bathrooms, and the other contains the community center's kitchen. The containers function to expand the square footage of the new center while keeping the same footprint as the original structure.

However, speed bumps are apparent. Like all Living Building candidates, they must adhere to strict rules regarding materials. Not only are there prohibited materials, like PVC, asbestos and neoprene, but they are also encouraged to find all building materials from local sources. In addition, the architects and developers must endeavor to use materials from within a designated local radius.

And then there is the question of funding. Now that the structure is built, only small additional funding remains. This money, however, is crucial for the Living Building standard. Solar panels, for example, are expensive as well as critical for their eco-goals, but have yet to be attained.

But spaces like the June Key Delta Community Center have achieved something important already. They provide an example of how spaces can be renovated to benefit the neighborhood, the local economy and the planet, while at the same time setting a higher standard for future projects.

[Via Treehugger]
Photos: Anne Morin, JKDCC Photographer

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Beth Carter

Contributing Editor

Beth Carter is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has worked for Catalyst magazine, the New York Times Syndicate, BBC Travel and Wired. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure