digital edition

Center for Health and Healing

Portland, Oregon

A Closer Look Pays Off: Remarkable energy efficiency and water savings, but ambivalent tenants, at a cutting-edge medical facility.

Originally featured October 2007
GBD Architects

By Nadav Malin

The building’s energy use intensity (EUI) is remarkable for a medical facility with such abundant equipment; the large drop in gas use between year
two and year three is attributed to the reprogrammed controls on the
Photo © Jamz Photography

The building’s energy use intensity (EUI) is remarkable for a medical facility with such abundant equipment; the large drop in gas use between year two and year three is attributed to the reprogrammed controls on the microturbines.

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Location Portland, Oregon

Gross area 400,000 ft2 (37,000 m2) plus parking

Cost $120 million

Annual purchased energy use (2010) 74 kBtu/ft2 (845 MJ/m2)

Annual carbon footprint (predicted) 22 lbs. CO2/ft2 (109 kg CO2/m2)

Completed October 2006

Program Hospital, offices, labs, pharmacy, cafe, clinics


Owner RIMCO: OHSU Medical Group
Developer Gerding Edlen Development
Architect/interior designer GBD Architects
Engineers KPFF Consulting Engineers (structural);
Interface Engineering (mep/commissioning)

The Center for Health and Healing at Oregon Health and Science University, a 400,000- square-foot, 16-story medical office building, was an ambitious project from the start. Comprising physician practices, outpatient surgery, a wellness center, research labs, and educational space, it incorporates a host of sophisticated energy-efficiency measures, water-conserving technologies, and other green features in an effort to show what’s possible in the often conservative market of medical office buildings. Those ambitious goals made it an especially valuable target for a comprehensive building performance study that took place about two years after occupancy. The study team deployed an occupant survey, analyzed utility bills, and compared the building’s performance to the goals that had been set for it.

The study was useful in many ways, but it paid off immediately by exposing an expensive mistake: The microturbines were supposed to generate electricity only when there was demand for heat or hot water. They are not very efficient without that dual function. Since the controls were not programmed properly, the microturbines were running nearly nonstop. By reprogramming those controls, the building’s energy use was reduced by 25 percent.

The building performance study also revealed that energy used by occupants for medical and office equipment was higher than anticipated. That’s a challenge that Alliance Director Dyann Hamilton of CB Richard Ellis, with support from the building owners, is attacking with two strategic initiatives: first, with a comprehensive tenant education and communication program; and second, by retrocommissioning the building. “We will continue striving for the original target of 60 percent energy savings,” notes Hamilton. She is also pursuing a follow-on to the building’s original LEED-Platinum certification, with certification at the same level through the LEED for Existing Buildings Operations & Maintenance rating system.

The tenant-education program is also intended to help staff in the building understand more about how it operates and how its energy savings translate into lower rent costs for them. That’s in part in response to somewhat disappointing results of the occupancy survey, which revealed some dissatisfaction with things like temperature, noise, and, especially, people’s ability to control their environment. The study also looked for signs of improved occupant health by comparing the number of days staff took sick leave. They didn’t find the hoped-for improvement—in fact, the data show a slight, but not statistically significant, increase in sick days.


This article appeared in the July 2011 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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