Portland Officially Sees the World’s Largest Commercial Living Building Open for Business

Portland Officially Sees the World’s Largest Commercial Living Building Open for Business

The PAE Living Building offers 58,000 square feet of mixed-use space across five stories in Portland, OR. It is the largest structure in the world that meets the certification requirements of the Living Building Challenge (LBC).

According to LBC, a living building has three features. [[1]]

  • It is a regenerative structure that connects its occupants to nature, air, food, light, and the local community.
  • The building remains within the resource limits of its site while being self-sufficient.
  • It creates a positive impact on natural and human system interactions.

ZGF Architects served as the design firm for the PAE Living Building. “[It] uses less energy, water, and material than comparable buildings while delivering superior levels of occupant comfort and productivity,” the firm stated in a recent press release. [[2]]

It is one of the first buildings in Portland to use a PV-powered battery storage system. This design feature allows it to use only 20% of the energy of a comparable structure.

The building is expected to operate off-grid for up to 100 days each year with its onside solar generation and dedicated offsite renewable energy resources.

What Is the Living Building Challenge?

The Living Building Challenge is one program of several from the International Living Future Institution. This organization believes that when a compelling vision for the future is available, it is much easier to reconcile a community’s needs with the natural world.

In addition to the LBC, the International Living Future Institution offers five other certifications that developers and builders can pursue. They include sustainable products, communities, and emissions elimination programs.

The Living Building Challenge aims to create structures that generate more energy than they use while being constructed of healthy materials.

It is organized into seven different performance areas for measurement, including beauty, equity, energy, and happiness. [[3]]

Memberships are available with the International Living Future Institute to support ongoing sustainability efforts. Prices range from $50 for students to $250 for corporations. Members receive invitations to exclusive webinars, digital recognition, discounts on educational resources, and access to an opportunities board to share or find professional opportunities.

70% of the Perimeter Spaces Are Ventilated

When people have access to natural light and an outdoor environment, they tend to be more productive and experience fewer adverse symptoms while working. The PAE Living Building takes this trait into account, offering a majority of the perimeter spaces to have operable windows for ventilation.

The developers use 100% LED lighting with nighttime sweeps to keep energy costs low. About two-thirds of the installed fixtures provide a color rendering index rating of 90 or higher.

Biophilia integrates into every aspect of the building’s design to accommodate the connection between humans and nature.

How Does the PAE Living Building Meet LBC’s Standards?

ZGF Architects designed the PAE Living Building to meet all its water needs through rainwater capture and onsite treatment processes. There is a 71,000-gallon cistern on the property, a multistory flushing system that transforms waste into agricultural compost and liquid fertilizer. It also uses 100% Red List Free materials.

The development team took the extra step of procuring 100% Forest Stewardship Council wood while installing veneer doors with a fire rating. It’s engineered beyond the code minimums for earthquake resistance for hospital-level structures.

These elements ensure that the building produces 105% of its total energy needs, totaling about 368,000 kilowatt-hours of energy annually. [[4]]

Over 2,000 tons of embodied carbon are associated with the PAE Living Building, which helped to divert nearly 1,200 tons of material from local landfills.

Jill Sherman is the co-founder of Edlen & Company, the firm that served as the project’s developer. “The PAE Living Building demonstrates that similar projects are not only technically possible on a dense urban site, but they are also financially viable opportunities for private investors,” she said.

“Our early investor commitments helped mitigate the risk for the third-party cash investors who could have viewed this project as too risky during the initial phase of financing.”

The PAE Living Building is designed to last for 500 years. “Its success shows the private sector that meeting the highest sustainability aspirations for new buildings is truly achievable in a developer-driven model,” the press release says.

Anyone can visit the PAE Living Building on the corner of Pine Street and SW First Avenue in Portland’s Old Town Historic District. The $40.2 million development includes a 40-stall bike storage area, ground-floor retail, a fitness center, and other community resources.


[[1]] Living Building Challenge - International Living Future Institute (living-future.org)[[2]] World’s largest commercial Living Building opens in Portland, Ore. (bdcnetwork.com)[[3]] The World's Largest Urban Commercial Living Building | PAE Living Building (pae-engineers.com)[[4]] PAE Living Building - KPFF