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Sky Gardens ~
Travels in Landscape Architecture

By Linda S. Velazquez, ASLA Associate, Publisher

November/December 2003  ~

Portland, OR.  Breaking through the clouds upon descent into Portland's PDX displayed brilliant hues of yellow, orange and red leaves sparkling along the waterways and among feathery dark evergreen forests, set against majestic Mt. Hood.

This tallest peak in Oregon’s Cascade Mountain Range serves as a backdrop to this truly beautiful natural landscape and city skyline. Crisp October air greeted Aramis and me as we ventured into the city for a quick visit to see a few of the area's most prominent extensive greenroofs - or ecoroofs, as they are more commonly referred to here.

Mt. Hood Photo by Richard L. Kohnstamm

Left: Mt. Hood provides a stunning backdrop to Portland; Source: Webshots by ImageState
Center: Mt. Hood at Trillium Lake; Source: Webshots, © Jason Schwarz;
Right: Timberline Lodge, Source:

The Rose City

City of Portland, OR, Seal

Known as "The Rose City" for its famous yearly Rose Festival and The Grand Floral Parade in early June, Portland OR could also be easily known as "The Eco City" or perhaps even "The Green City" because of their ongoing commitment to preserving the magnificent waterways and forests while promoting sustainable design and development through progressive urban policies.  In fact, the Portland Oregon's Visitors Association motto is "It's not easy being green," but they appear to execute this philosophy effortlessly.

Portland OR and the Willamette River;

Portland's population is 538,180 with 1.95 million in the metropolitan area, yet is also a family friendly, walkable and bikable city of funky and hip neighborhoods offering a vast array of vintage stores and eclectic boutiques with innovative restaurants and a flourishing arts scene.  In 1998, Walking Magazine declared Portland as one of America’s best walking towns, and this year it was voted "the best running town" from Runner's World.

Farmer's markets, fresh seafood, vegetarian, Asian, and Northwest cuisine abound, and some say Portland's wine country is considered to be the next Napa Valley. Native American, Asian, and all sorts of sophisticated, eclectic and bohemian art culture can be explored as well as the equally eclectic array of bookstores, coffeehouses, pubs, and of course, breweries. Today, more than 25 craft breweries have earned Portland the nickname "Münich on the Willamette" with a total 40 microbreweries and brewpubs located in the Portland area. For those who don't want to walk, public transportation is both accessible and user-friendly with the MAX Light rail trains, the Portland Streetcar and an easy-to-navigate bus system that moves riders through town efficiently - and all offer free service within the downtown area. Golf, year-round skiing, fishing, and biking are all popular sports in this outdoor oriented city. Bicycling magazine ranked Portland the United States’ top cycling city the last two years running due in part to their expansive bike-friendly paths.

Parks, Trails and Greenspaces

Parks, trails and greenspaces abound with 37,000 acres of parks in the metro area, including the 5,000-acre Forest Park, the nation’s largest urban wilderness for hiking and biking.  A few of the most prominent gardens include the 4.5 acre International Rose Test Garden, located in Washington Park, housing more than 560 rose varieties; the world famous Japanese Gardens, showcasing five traditional garden styles on 5.5 acres designed to recapture the ambience of ancient Japan; and the Classical Chinese Garden, built by artisans from Suzhou, China, and winding through serpentine walkways of foliage, lakes, pavilions and courtyards. Check out all the beautiful parks here.

The official website for Portland, Oregon is PortlandOnline; check out this extremely informative site for everything you would like to know about Portland.  For those of you attending the Green Roof Conference in 2004 or considering a vacation, you may request a Portland Visitor Guide and Brochure here.

International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park, OR Portland's Classical Chinese Garden Portland's Japanese Garden

Left: International Rose Test Gardens Looking East; Photo Source:
Center: Portland's Classical Chinese Garden; Source:
Right: Japanese Garden; Source:

Ecological Design and Landscape Architecture

Many examples of sustainable design include a new 13-story apartment that will recycle rainwater to flush toilets in all apartments which will be the first of its kind in the state; a water quality lab in north Portland by Murase Associates; stormwater planters at the Portland Convention Center addition by Mayer Reed; a new park being developed in the Pearl District by GreenWorks and Herbert Dreiseitl; and Zenger Farm is converting an old farm in outer southeast Portland into a sustainable urban agriculture, stormwater management, community development and sustainable design center by Pivot Design & Consulting.

Stormwater Issues

Green planning takes some creative solutions to big city problems, and Portland is in the middle of a $1 billion federally mandated sewer project.  According to the city's Clean River Works website, combined sewer overages (CSOs) occur nearly every time it rains in Portland.  During a CSO, stormwater quickly fills the combined sewers, which carry both sanitary sewage and runoff from streets, parking lots, and rooftops.  The overflows carry bacteria from the untreated sewage as well as other pollutants in the stormwater directly into the river.  Currently, Portland's Department of Environmental Services is building a pipeline on the west side of the Willamette River, a large pump station on Swan Island, and designing an east side pipeline.  By diverting stormwater out of the combined sewer system with these and other projects, the City expects to reduce CSO volume to the river by 94%.  All Willamette River CSO projects are projected for completion by 2011.

Staunch Advocates

Buckman Terrace Apts, Photo by Tom Liptan

Buckman Terrace Apartments in mid-
town Portland; Photo © Tom Liptan

Ecoroofs have been deemed a viable stormwater mitigation tool here since the late 1990's due to a very informed and open city government and the concerted efforts of a few key figures, most notably Tom Liptan, ASLA.

A landscape architect and stormwater specialist for the City of Portland OR, Bureau of Environmental Services, Tom has been the pioneering advocate for ecoroofs in Portland and is largely responsible for introducing greenroofs here.  People say Tom has probably done the most to promote ecoroofs in the immediate area, due to his passion for the subject and his position in the city. He is the de facto leader of the movement and the go-to guy for quotes and information (see contact info below).

In fact, Tom is credited with installing the first designed Portland ecoroof atop his flat 10 x 18’ garage in 1997- see The Greenroof Projects Database, Liptan Greenroof Garage.  According to Anthony Roy of the City of Portland's Office of Sustainable Development, a beautiful residence with a flat roof in a wealthy neighborhood in Portland has allowed mosses and grasses to take over, and the result is a very nice greenroof that has been there for over a decade; so although unintentionally, this is deemed the first - albeit "natural."

Tom Liptan's Now-Famous Garage Ecoroof in July, 2000

Listen to Tom Liptan present a free seminar at the PSU Seminar Day, "Greenroofs for Healthy and Sustainable Cities" on Saturday November 8, 2003 at 2 pm.  He will explain what greenroofs are and how they offer an exciting and effective technique for addressing urban health and sustainability.

Other champions include current City Commissioner Dan Saltzman and County Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey.  And Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services is a major player in funding and promotion while the Office of Sustainable Development's Green Building program has been instrumental in making many projects happen.

The Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) serves the Portland Oregon community by protecting public health, water quality and the environment, and is Portland's Clean River agency.  BES treats Portland's wastewater, provides stormwater drainage services, and works in Portland watersheds to reduce stormwater pollution, restore native vegetation, and improve the quality of water in area rivers and streams.

The mission of Portland’s Office of Sustainable Development is to research, promote and integrate environmental, social and economic health.  They provide information on how to make a real difference in homes, businesses and within the community.

Squaw Mountain Gardens; Photo Courtesy Anthony Roy

Kristin Godkin of Carleton Hart Architecture says, "Many others have been very influential in getting people on board with projects and technology - Anthony Roy and Greg Haines with Ecoroofs Everywhere, Pat Lando of Lando & Associates Landscape Architecture, and Patrick Carey with the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild in Seattle. Magnus Bernhardt of AEI gave a great presentation on Malmö, Sweden greenroofs, and Jason King of Macdonald Environmental Planning has given presentations at a few conferences and for groups in the area to educate people on ecoroofs. Dave Andrews at Pro-Gro has done a bunch of research on soils for ecoroofs and is always willing to offer advice. Don from Squaw Mountain is the major Sedum guy, and donates cuttings for projects pretty readily."

Several greenroof manufacturers and providers have been involved with early ecoroofs, in particular the Garland Company, W. P. Hickman and Famos, but it appears not any one company has had much impact locally.  Many area ecoroofs have also been designed with non-proprietary systems using local materials.

The U.S. Leader in Economic Incentives for Greenroofs

Arguably, Chicago and Portland head the list of cities who are actively promoting the development of greenroofs. But, currently the city of Portland, OR, is leading the way in the U.S. with aggressive sustainable design measures that include economic incentives.  In July, 2002, the City of Portland Office of Sustainable Development (OSD) introduced "Portland LEED," the first U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) approved local supplement to the USGBC Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.  In early 2003 the City of Portland developed a 12-page Questions and Answers brochure on green roofing, see How To's.

Two measures are in place in Portland to make ecoroof construction easier on the wallet, and a third is being worked on.  First, "All building projects in the city that will result in at least 500 square feet (46 square meters) of impervious surface are required to implement stormwater pollution reduction and flow control measures, and ecoroofs are one of the acceptable measures."  Second, builders can now increase their floor area ratio (FAR) when they include a greenroof to cover a minimum of 60% of the roof surface. In March 2001 Portland created a FAR bonus which grants an additional three square feet of floor area per square foot of greenroof to be added to the footprint of the building.

The third measure plans for Portland to reduce stormwater utility fees for buildings with greenroofs by July, 2006.  The City's "Clean River Incentive and Discount Program" is aimed at ecoroofs atop commercial, industrial, institutional, multi-family and single family residential properties.  They had hoped for the program to be in place by now, but logistics regarding the current utility billing system need to be worked out.  Replacement of the system has delayed implementation of the new discount program.  For more links and complete information, see Industry Support.

Our Visit

Rain greeted us on our quick visit to three Portland area greenroofs, starting with the Multnomah County Multnomah Building where we were graciously escorted on a guided tour by Brian Carleton, principal of Carleton Hart Architecture and Alan Proffitt, Project Manager Lead with Multnomah County (click here to see the entire design team).

Multnomah County Multnomah Building  ~ Upon exiting the 5th floor elevator, the greenroof truly took my breath away as the panorama of wildflowers, grasses and sedums were immediately visible from the vast expanse of picture windows. Completed in July, 2003, the greenroof encompasses the total fifth floor area of 15,420 sf, with planted area of 11, 893 sf.  Designed as Portland's first public greenroof demonstration garden, the Multnomah Building project converted an existing flat roof into a powerful green opportunity for education for a number of user groups.  Descriptive interpretive signs allow for easy access to greenroof information.

Multnomah County Interpretive Extensive Greenroof

Multnomah County Greenroof; Photo Courtesy Carleton Hart Architects

Macdonald Environmental Planning, p.c. was the Landscape Architect for the project, with Jason King, ASLA , acting as Project Manager (Jason has a couple of other ecoroof projects in Portland).  Three distinct opportunities for education were addressed as part of the process in the development process for the Multnomah Building Greenroof: 1) public accessibility 2) interpretive activities, and 3) free sharing of data between professionals. The desire is for the specifics of these aspects can form a basic model for incorporating education into future greenroof projects of any scale.

Overhead View of the Multnomah County Greenroof;
Photo Courtesy Carleton Hart Architects

The plan view shows the flow of the serpentine raised bed hardscape which also serves as a seating wall for visitors.  Since the greenroof itself is not accessible, this bed displays representative project plant material.  Six inches of lightweight growing mix accommodates succulents, perennials, annuals and grasses.  Water entering drains for a portion of the roof will be monitored for a number of factors to quantify the greenroof benefits and increase public knowledge.

Ecotrust's Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center ~ Ecotrust is a conservation non-profit based in Portland working to support the emergence of a conservation economy within its bioregion -  the Pacific coastal temperate rainforest - which extends from San Francisco to Anchorage, Alaska.  Ecotrust's mission is to build Salmon Nation, a place where people and wild salmon thrive, and they offer a toolkit with GIS services, several publications and online resources.

Ecotrust's outside deck and fireplace

Ecotrust's Outdoor Deck and Fireplace, Flanked by Ecoroofs
Photo Courtesy Sydney Mead

In 2001 they restored the Natural Capital Center providing a conference and gathering place for the discussion, creation, and distribution of environmentally and socially responsible ideas, goods and services.  The three-story building, originally a warehouse built in 1895, was restored using several green building strategies.  Ecotrust's Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center was awarded the first gold level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for any building in Oregon in December, 2001.

EcoTrust Greenroof by LSV EcoTrust Test Greenroof Plot by LSV

EcoTrust's Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center Ecoroof; Test Plot for Growing Medium.
Photos by Linda S. Velazquez - October 29, 2003

Sydney Mead, Natural Capital Center Programs Manager, showed us around the third floor outdoor area which houses a deck and fireplace - see above - and wrap- around ecoroofs.  She told us how certain plants and growing substrates are being monitored by volunteers and have been adjusted to better see which varieties and mixes are best suited to the climate.  Volunteer plants, such as clover, have been left for further study of survivability, and areas have been roped off designating different growing media.

Brewery Blocks ~ Developed by Gerding/Edlen Development Company, Renée Worme, Project Management, graciously allowed Aramis and me into their offices almost at closing time to get a view of the expansive M Financial Plaza greenroof (Block 4).

Brewery Block's M Fiancial Ecoroof M Financial Plaza developed by Gerding/Edlen

M Financial Plaza Greenroofs, designed by Perron Collaborative;
Photos Courtesy Perron Collaborative

Recently completed in March with Perron Collaborative as the ecoroof designer, the growth media depths fluctuate within the 13,000 sf custom greenroof, ranging from 2" to 12" for an undulating effect.  The plants have done well and the design is quite pleasing, visible to hundreds of people in neighboring offices.  Gerding/ Edlen is also developing nearby Block 5 with ecoroofs, and the Broadway Housing Project - see below.

Greenroofs Everywhere

Like most major cities, intensive greenroofs have existed in Portland for years.  For example, the Terry Shrunk Plaza is a landscaped park above a parking garage across the street from City Hall dating back to the 1970’s.  I sent out a questionnaire to the major players on the ecoroof scene and received some interesting information, presented here.  Just about every architecture and design firm in Portland is addressing sustainability these days, and many are designing with extensive greenroofs.  At present, approximately 25 or so are complete or in various construction stages, with a handful more expected by Spring 2004 - and numerous others are in the initial stages of design.  The applications to building types and sizes run the gamut from single and multi-family residential, lodging, city government, fire station, food co-op, university, and commercial to numerous kiosks and test plots.  The current proliferation of extensive greenroofs are too many to name here, but here are a few - look for case studies of these soon under Projects:

Broadway Housing Project & Eco Roof ~ The largest ecoroof in Portland is currently being installed on Portland State University's (PSU) Broadway Housing project.  OTAK Architects is providing design services for Gerding/Edlen Development and PSU on this 212,095 sf, ten-story, mixed-use building located adjacent to the PSU campus.  Currently under construction, the student housing/classroom/retail building will provide 384 studio apartment units, 15,230 sf of retail space at street level, and 17,910 sf of classroom space at the second level.

Judd Janes, Project Manager, says "In keeping with both the developer and University’s goals for sustainability, this project is pursuing a LEED™ Silver rating. Key sustainable features of the project include an 18,201 sf eco roof, high-efficiency fixtures, and locally and sustainably harvested materials throughout."

The ecoroof's environmental benefits include decreasing stormwater runoff, energy savings due to the roof's insulating properties, and reducing pollution and erosion.

The ecoroof also helps earn points in several LEED™ categories.  The City of Portland also offers a 3 to 1 building square footage bonus if actual ecoroof area exceeds 60% of actual roof area, a target this project achieved.

Hamilton Apartments by the Garland Co.

Hamilton Apartments;
Courtesy The Garland Co.

Hamilton West Building ~ In 1999, the City of Portland, Oregon and the Portland Housing Authority added an 8,500 square foot greenroof atop a 10-story apartment building - the first of its kind in Portland.  The ecoroof covers 60% of the roof.  The building was designed by OTAK Architects, the greenroof system used is the Garland Company's GreenShield program and the waterproofing is Garland's StressPly Plus polymer modified membrane.  Many low growing sedums, such as Sedum oreganum, and other succulents provide groundcover with some native wildflowers and grasses for accents.  The roof was irrigated the first year for proper plant and root establishment and is flourishing nicely - see the case study under Projects.

Sokol Blosser Winery, OR

Sokol Blosser Barrel Cellar;

Sokol Blosser Barrel Cellar ~ SERA architects designed a wine storage facility at a local vineyard that has a greenroof akin to an earth shelter - see below.  In December 2002, Sokol Blosser became the nation's first winery to be awarded the prestigious LEED 2.0 Silver Level Certification by the US Green Building Council. The new cellar, with barrel capacity of 900 barrels, features a chamber located underground to take advantage of the natural cooling properties of the soil. The cellar also features a living roof, covered with the same wildflower cover crops used throughout the vineyard to encourage biodiversity.

Greenroof Related Organizations and Designers

As stated earlier, most designers now are either exploring or actively promoting sustainable design in general and greenroofs in particular.  The following list is by no means complete, but these names appeared most on my survey.

Carleton Hart Architecture designed the Multnomah County Building and are committed to ecological alternatives, especially greenroofs.   Their areas of expertise include housing, master planning, religious facilities, special care, renovation, revitalization, community centers, mixed-use, and feasibility studies.

People's Ecoroof by Ecoroofs Everywhere, August 2003

People's Ecoroof, Photo
Courtesy Anthony Roy

Ecoroofs Everywhere is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the regional use of vegetated rooftops through low cost community-based projects and public education.  To date, Ecoroofs Everywhere has designed and installed five residential scale ecoroofs; a sixth will be installed on November 8 with a seventh project planned for early spring 2004 - please read about their mission and happenings on the Home Page under Guest Feature Article.  Ecoroofs Everywhere has done a ton to promote ecoroofs in the area - through community education, visibility, and installations - all with little or no resources.

Pat Lando of Lando & Associates Landscape Architecture has several area projects, and is also an early Portland advocate.   Their design practices embrace sustainable landscapes with an emphasis on native vegetation and cost-effective 'green' technologies, and services include ecoroof consultation - specification, design, and specialty inspection.

Macdonald Environmental Planning p.c. is a design-oriented firm involved in a wide variety of projects, primarily in landscape architecture, master planning, and environmental consulting. They were the landscape architect for the Multnomah County Building Green Roof, and Project Manager Jason King, ASLA has completed a number of other ecoroof projects in the Portland area.

Pivot Design & Consulting is dedicated to sustainable and regenerative design strategies and technologies that integrate community development, architecture and site planning. Current projects include habitat enhancement at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in Portland, the development of an urban farm park in Portland, and greenroofs and site design for a watershed research center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Portland State University (PSU) has been actively involved in not only building greenroofs on campus but encouraging study of them since the late 1990's.  Several students are working on various projects.

The 2nd Annual International Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference, Awards and Trade Show

The City of Portland, OR is proud to co-host next year's 2nd Annual International Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference, Awards and Trade Show with Green Roofs for Healthy Cities on June 2, 3, and 4.  Steven Peck, Executive Director of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, expects over 750 international experts and delegates from diverse fields to share knowledge about the benefits of greenroofs, new research findings, policy developments, and the latest in greenroof products and services. will once again have an exhibit booth - make sure to stop by if you attend!  Greenroof tours will be available, this time organized through walking, cycling and self-guided tours.  New for 2004 will be a greenroof training course and an international business opportunities reception.  For complete Conference information see and stay updated here, too. is proud to be a member of this industry organization and we look forward to welcoming new members at the Conference.  If you would like information on trade show booths, sponsorship or membership, please email Linda.

Contact info for the City of Portland, OR:

Tom Liptan, ASLA, Bureau of Environmental Services - Phone 503.873.7267 TOML@BES.CI.PORTLAND.OR.US
Anthony Roy, Office of Sustainable Development - Phone 503.823.7616;

To learn more about Portland OR, click on the following books:
City Smart Portland, OR Hidden Oregon: Including Portland, the Coast, Cascades, and Columbia River Gorge Human Nature: The Japanese Garden of Portland, Oregon

Next month I will be exploring the bustling city of London, England and examining their greening initiatives.  Join me as I visit some greenroofs and area experts in academics, business and ecological organizations.

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