Walls of green
Author: Kathryn Kirkland
Posted: September 4, 2012

THE SHELL of an old metal security shed is the foundation for a unique new public garden and outdoor research lab at Portland State.

The Shattuck Hall Ecological Learning Plaza—on the corner of Southwest Broadway and College Street—was unveiled by the Department of Architecture in July. The public plaza is a testing ground for the design of sustainable building materials and methods.

Currently, the space features vertical gardens—or green walls—equipped with sensors to monitor their potential for storm water mitigation. Temperature, plant health, water and fertilizer use, and finally cost data will be available for anyone considering a similar structure. Students and faculty are also testing a sloped green roof system for possible use at the Oregon Zoo. The entire space is off the grid as all systems are powered by a solar array.

Student groups did much of the design work and construction of the plaza, including the monitoring systems, which were wired by engineering students, and the outdoor seating created by architecture students.

Metro, the regional government, provided the initial investment in the project, describing the Learning Plaza as exactly the type of community project it likes to support. “Green building and green research is one of the future exports of the Portland metro region,” says Metro Council President Tom Hughes. “This is a key economic development tool for us.”

In a couple years, when the current experiments are concluded, the vertical gardens and green roof will be removed and replaced by another sustainable building research project. There will be one constant.

“The plaza will be a public space for people to enjoy, interact and learn from the research,” says architecture professor and project lead Jeff Schnabel, who is a contact for space, and may be reached at 503-725-8440 or

Photo: Vertical and roof gardens, and beds of native and exotic plants are tested in a new public plaza on campus. Architecture students designed and constructed the space using old Portland cobblestones. Photos by Edis Jurcys.