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One-time Portland car dealership earns top certification for sustainability

Mahlum Architects' new studio is the first Living Building Petal certification project in the city.

PORTLAND, Ore — Talk about a transformation.

A one-time car dealership turned stamping manufacturer in Southeast Portland is now one of greenest buildings on the planet.

Mahlum Architects' new studio is the first Living Building Petal certification project in the city. That means the building is as about as environmentally friendly as buildings can get.

Almost everything inside of it is non-toxic.

"The rigor is what makes it special," said partner Kurt Haapala.

And rigor is certainly the right word.

The building is the first of its kind in Portland and one of only a small number worldwide.

"I think it's 48th in the country and 57th in the world," said Haapala.

In order to obtain the special certification, the company had to eliminate over 800 toxic materials typically found in workspaces.

These are chemicals normally found in lighting, carpeting, and just about everything in between.

"It's the jacketing in the electrical cable," Haapala explained. "It's the rubber surface of a wheel on a piece of furniture."

The paint, the drywall, the fixtures, even electrical face-plates had to be specially made without those 800 chemicals.

The Living Building certification is even more impressive considering the building used to be an old stamping company and before that it was a car dealership.

Soon it will record another first as one of the highlights of Portland's Sustainable Building Week.   

For the first time the event will be held virtually.

"The silver lining to COVID is that it's virtual so people can log into these events from all over the country or planet," said event co-founder Terry Campbell.

Most events will be free. It's a way to get people who build and design the places in which we work and live more familiar with these earth and health friendly practices.

The goal is to make something that is challenging now easier in the future.

"You can achieve a highly sustainable project that is high quality, is well loved, is durable," said Haapala. "And you can know you have done your part to reducing climate change."