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UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See prorev.com for full contents of our site

January 31, 2010

FEDS TO TRY VERTICAL GARDEN ON BUILDING

NY Times - In one of the more thoroughly tilled cities in America. . . the federal government plans to plant its own bold garden directly above a [Portland OR] downtown plaza. As part of a $133 million renovation, the General Services Administration is planning to cultivate "vegetated fins" that will grow more than 200 feet high on the western facade of the main federal building here, a vertical garden that changes with the seasons and nurtures plants that yield energy savings.

"They will bloom in the spring and summer when you want the shade, and then they will go away in the winter when you want to let the light in," said Bob Peck, commissioner of public buildings for the G.S.A. "Don't ask me how you get them irrigated."

Rainwater, captured on the roof, and perhaps even "gray water" recycled from the interior plumbing are both possibilities, the architects say. But they concede that they are still figuring out some of the finer points of renovating the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building, which was completed in 1975 and is currently 18 stories of concrete, glass and minimal inspiration.

Who will prune the facade? Maybe the same folks who wash skyscraper windows, the architects say. Perhaps the exterior concrete panels removed in the renovation could be reused as salmon habitat in a nearby river.

The G.S.A. says the building will use 60 percent to 65 percent less energy than comparable buildings and estimates a savings of $280,000 annually in energy costs. Solar panels could provide up to 15 percent of the building's power needs. The use of rainwater and low-flow plumbing fixtures will reduce potable water consumption by 68 percent. And energy for lighting will be halved.

"It will be one of the more energy-efficient high-rises in America, possibly in the world," said James Cutler, whose architecture firm, Cutler Anderson, led the design work. . .

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the plan. In December, Senators John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, both Republicans, criticized the cost of the project and ranked it second on a list of what they called the 100 worst stimulus-financed projects. The G.S.A. has said that report relied on incomplete data, but the project's cost has also raised eyebrows here.

Joe Vaughan, a longtime commercial real estate broker here, said that the building's office space would ultimately cost more per square foot than some other environmentally-conscious projects that are built new.

"As a taxpayer, I think it's a horrible waste of money that no private developer would undertake," Mr. Vaughan said.

G.S.A. officials said the cost of constructing federal office buildings cannot be compared to private buildings because of security and other government requirements. Nor, they said, should the construction costs of the building be viewed in isolation.

"The idea is that the cost savings are in the energy efficiency," said Caren Auchman, a spokeswoman for the G.S.A.


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