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The City of Portland, Oregon

Planning and Sustainability

Innovation. Collaboration. Practical Solutions.

Phone: 503-823-7700

Curbside Hotline: 503-823-7202

1900 SW 4th Ave, Suite 7100, Portland, OR 97201

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From your Regional Green Building Hotline: Old buildings work very well, thank you

Old buildings are rich, working reminders of the past that shaped us and also provide unique opportunities for innovative preservation and retrofit.  We can preserve our region’s architectural heritage by adapting and rehabilitating for today’s needs and future uses. Looking through lenses of sustainability, reuse, conservation and historic preservation we find ways of conserving precious resources, preserving our buildings and job creation and retention.

Living wage construction preservation jobs require training and skills and cannot be outsourced.  These job types include deconstruction, restoration, salvage, period reproduction, manufacturing and adaptive reuse as well as the trades like carpentry, plumbing and weatherization.  

Historic homes and commercial structures were often built with materials and detailing that is not economically feasible today, or the construction skills have now been lost.  Building materials include old growth fir, cast iron storefronts, terracotta façade detailing, massive solid wood beams, and wavy window glass.  Respecting and celebrating these materials and craftsmanship ensures diverse streetscapes, creates living architectural laboratories and community livability.

What is Embodied energy?  Why should you care?

Embodied energy is the total of all the energy required to grow, harvest, extract, manufacture, refine, process, package, transport, install and dispose of a product or building material. When a building is demolished with no plans for reclamation, this energy that was paid for by past generations is lost. Reusing an existing building or its components, having a recycling plan in place and educating sub-contractors on the jobsite to recycle and minimize waste all contribute to a high waste reduction and reuse goal.  

Portland is home to several commercial buildings that have been adapted and restored and now garnering high office and event space rents:  Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, Mercy Corps Global Headquarters, The LeftBank Project, Gerding Theater at the Armory, Morgan Building and White Stag Block.  

Healthy, connected neighborhoods, also known as “twenty-minute neighborhoods,” aim for compact communities where amenities like schools, places of worship and retail are located within a walking, biking or wheelchair distance of twenty minutes.  It is a component of smart growth.  Older neighborhoods developed before the popularity of automobiles have diversity and density from varied small local business and community uses.  Retail storefronts in low-scale buildings are interwoven alongside homes, apartments, schools and libraries.  Some old Portland neighborhoods featuring compact development include Hawthorne-Belmont, Alberta Arts, St. Johns, Kenton, Multnomah Village and North Mississippi Avenue.

Want to know more?

Visit the Regional Green Building Hotline’s new Sustainable Preservation page at

The Regional Green Building Hotline provides comprehensive green building resources and technical info for Metro region and is sponsored by the following partners: Metro, Multnomah County, Clackamas County, Washington County and the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Call 503-823-5431 or visit for free assistance with your questions about green building.