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RNP staff members recently enjoyed a visit to Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects (ZGF), where we toured an array of efficient and renewable features at the Twelve West building.
Graciously hosted by ZGF Principal John Breshears, our tour began with a presentation on the history behind the wind turbines atop Twelve West, a commercial and residential building in Portland that has earned LEED Platinum certifications for both New Construction and Commercial Interiors. The first functional wind turbines to appear on a Portland high-rise rooftop, the project is a dynamic addition to the skyline and a symbol of Portland’s leadership in sustainability. John described working with developer Gerding Edlen to realize the vision of rooftop wind that was part of original renderings for the project. Also, he illustrated how they embarked on an exploration of unknowns. “We had very few examples of operational wind turbines on building projects to look to,” John explained. “The question was – how much power would the turbines generate within the complex wind regime of an urban environment? Our main objective in the project was to use the turbines as a public learning experience.”
 
One challenge that John described was identifying the right turbines for the building in a market of varied quality and functionality. After much research and scrutiny of dozens of options, ZGF selected Southwest Windpower Inc. as the turbine supplier, confident in the product due to its compliance with European certification standards. John also detailed advance steps taken to prevent noise and vibrations that could otherwise potentially impact residents in penthouse properties below. His team of innovators developed thick rubber footings for the turbines as opposed to installing them directly into the concrete. With the penthouses occupied and no sound complaints received, the approach was a success.
 
After his presentation, John guided us through the ZGF headquarters within the airy commercial portion of the Twelve West building. We were delighted by both the elegant design of the space and its progressive energy-efficient assets, from permeable flooring to facilitate airflow and an innovative overhead radiant cooling system to supplement traditional air conditioning systems.
 
We then made our way through the vibrant residential lobby, where John noted that the building was nearly at leasing capacity: no small feat amid strained market conditions. He guided us into the elevator, where we made our way to the roof of the building for our renewables tour.
 
Upon setting foot outside, we were immediately struck by sweeping panoramic views of the Portland cityscape. Adding to the impressive visuals was a sustainable roof surface covered with grasses and other plants. In addition to the wind turbines, John pointed out the solar water heating panels atop Twelve West. While more understated than its “sexy supermodel” wind turbine counterparts, he said that the solar panels contribute significantly more energy than the wind turbines. These sights were juxtaposed with a row of bright orange lounging chairs, another sign of human intersection with smart, sustainable design.
 
We are grateful to John and ZGF Architects for this unique educational and sensory experience. We applaud not only their commitment to energy efficiency and renewable projects, but also their willingness to innovate during a time at which the national development market was stymied by recession. Next time you walk through Portland and notice the sleek Twelve West building and the whirling turbines at its peak, we hope that you, too, will be inspired to work toward a sustainable energy future.
 
- written by Erin Greeson
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