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'Living building' opens in Portland's Old Town neighborhood

The building uses 100% sustainable recycled water and produces its own energy. Developers say the building will last 500 years.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Designers of a new commercial building in downtown Portland have built what's called a 'living building,' meaning everything about it is 100% sustainable.

Located at the corner of Southwest 1st Avenue and Pine Street, the PAE Living Building is the "first developer-driven and largest commercial urban Living Building in the world," according to developers. The building is designed to last 500 years and survive a major earthquake. 

A living building must meet strict requirements to obtain the certification. Each living building must meet seven key performance areas – known as Petals– that address every aspect of design, construction and operations to achieve a resilient and self-sufficient building.

The PAE Living Building is five stories tall and may look like just another brick building, but this one will give back to the environment. Everything about the building serves a purpose.

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"This takes the rainfall from the roof and turns it into water that you can drink [and] shower in. We're essentially our own water district," said Paul Schwer, president of PAE Consulting Engineers while taking KGW on a tour of the building's basement.

After the clean water gets filtered and used, it goes down the sinks and drain and gets reused too.

"This green tank here, we filter that and we use that to flush the toilets," said Schwer.

The toilets are all vacuum flushed just like an airplanes.  The toilet water will even serve another purpose.

"We turn the human waste into composting, so those blue tanks there are large composting units all the waste of the building will eventually be fertilizing a farm some place," Schwer said.

The roof is covered in solar panels that will generate power for the entire building. Back down in the basement, there is a room full of rechargeable batteries that Schwer says is the equivalent of three Tesla cars.

The building will generate more energy than it needs, making it a net energy producer.

"One of the goals of this building was to prove a replicable model that the tenants could afford to be here from a rent standpoint. That the investors could get a return on and it'd never been done before," Schwer said. 

The design elements of the livable and workable spaces are designed to use as little energy as possible.

"For instance, there are no lights on in here today. It's a beautiful sunny day and we made sure to locate all of the occupied spaces near the windows around the perimeter of this building," said Kathy Berg, lead architect for ZGF Architects.

The tenants are commercial only, so there's no residential space. If another developer wanted to replicate their design, they are open sourcing it.

"If other developers want to do it, we actually want more of these across the country and across the world," Schwer said.

Over the next 12 months the developers from PAE Consulting Engineers will track the performance of the building's features to prove it meets the requirements to achieve a 'living building' certification by summer 2023.

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