As developer Ted Gilbert of Gilbert Bros. Commercial Brokerage Co., sets out to create a new community in the Gateway District of southeast Portland, his guiding principles are economic, environmental and social sustainability. Plans for the eight acres of land located between NE Pacific and Glisan and NE 99th and 102nd, include a series of multi-use buildings that will include housing, high-end retail, Class A office space, restaurants, entertainment options, a large hotel, and possibly a natural foods grocery store. Development activity for the project, called "The Elements at Gateway," is set to begin in summer 2005 with the construction of Building One, a four-story, 114,000-square-foot retail and office building.
Building One’s design is intended to earn "Silver" from the U.S. Green Building Council’s rating program, called "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" or "LEED." To meet the requirements of this voluntary building standard, Building One will employ a variety of environmental construction techniques and products. To start, instead of demolishing the buildings previously on the site, Gilbert moved the structures intact so they can be reused elsewhere. Another important environmental feature that will help Building One achieve LEED certification is the reuse of large, old-growth timbers as a key design element on the building’s façade.
The Elements’ architect, Scott Thayer from Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects, introduced the use of salvaged timbers as a way to incorporate sustainability into the project while meeting the developer’s aesthetic goals. Described as a "Cascadian" style of building, The Elements design will reflect the materials and appearance of buildings of the Pacific Northwest’s past, modernized for the 21st century. The salvaged lumber will serve as support brackets for overhangs and building components, adding a natural element to contrast with the building’s glass and steel. Although the timbers are not part of the primary structural frame, according to Thayer, the timbers are not "purely cosmetic or for finishing" either. Since the dimension and quality of the beams would most likely exceed the requirements for structural use, the engineers will not require the lumber to be graded or certified by the West Coast Lumber Inspection Bureau.
After the development team agreed to the building’s design, the search began for the appropriately sized lumber. When an article in the newspaper appeared about the deconstruction of a ninety-two-year-old streetcar garage, the developer pursued the lead as an opportunity to obtain the lumber package before disassembly began. From this garage, formerly located on Reed College’s campus, Gilbert was able to purchase over 70,000 board feet of Douglas fir 6"x8"s and 8x12s in lengths ranging from 10 to 50 feet. More than enough to satisfy the material needs for Building One, the remaining salvaged lumber will appear as a recurring theme in other buildings in the development.
Thayer points out that it is important to remain flexible when striving to use salvaged lumber on such a large scale. "Once you have a rough sense of the materials needed, you may have to modify what you are looking for as availability changes." Although the supply of salvaged lumber can be unpredictable, as demand grows, more used building material businesses are developing market networks and inventory systems to ensure an increasingly dependable supply of material.
Once the garages were dismantled, the old-growth fir timbers were sent for processing and storage to one of the country’s largest recycled lumber mills, The West Coast Timber Company in Ashland, Oregon. After checking for residual nails or fasteners with a powerful metal detector, owner Shannon Megarity remilled the lumber to straighten time-related warps and to provide a new, clean finish to the beams. Megarity describes the resulting building-ready lumber stock as "just beautiful." Even though his company acquires salvaged timbers from all over the Pacific Northwest, most of the lumber gets shipped out of Oregon for use in high-end resort applications. By keeping the reclaimed timbers local, The Elements development is reducing transportation-related emissions and helping to retain one of Oregon’s most valuable natural resources – fine quality wood.
Although construction is just beginning at the time of this study, The Elements will provide the region with a notable model for how to use salvaged building materials in high-end commercial construction. With Gilbert’s commitment to building a community that reflects the principles of sustainable development, the salvaged timbers will function as a notable reminder of how the past can serve the future.