Eco learning plaza unveiled on Portland State campus
Author: Laura Gleim, Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Posted: July 12, 2012

An old metal security shed on the Portland State campus has been transformed into a flourishing public garden that doubles as an outdoor research lab.

On July 10, the PSU Department of Architecture unveiled the Shattuck Hall Ecological Learning (SHEL) Plaza on the corner of Southwest Broadway and College Street. The public plaza will be used as a green testing ground for designing and researching sustainable building materials and methods.

“It truly exemplifies what PSU wants to be about,” said President Wim Wiewel. “It’s about the learning, it’s about the research, it’s about the teaching.”

Currently, the space features an experimental sloped green roof system and vertical gardens—or green walls—equipped with solar-powered tools to monitor their potential for storm water mitigation. There are four green walls featuring different vertical planting systems and facing either north, south, east, or west.

But in a couple years, when the current experiments are concluded, those vertical gardens and green roof will be removed and replaced by another sustainable building research project.

“There will always be one constant,” said architecture professor and project lead Jeff Schnabel. “This will always be a public space.”

As the crowd huddled in the cool shade of Shattuck Hall, Schnabel acknowledged “a list of people who said yes” to making the plaza a reality. Partners for the project include Metro, PSU Facilities and Planning, the College of Engineering, the Green Building Research Lab, local businesses, and various student groups that did much of the design work and construction of the plaza.

“Those students have dedicated—and this is no exaggeration—thousands of hours,” Schnabel said.

In addition to the experimental garden systems, the plaza features a permeable cobblestone floor to naturally capture and filter water runoff, demonstration landscapes to test both native and exotic plants for water usage, and custom furniture created by architecture students.

“The furniture went in yesterday morning,” said Clive Knights, chair of the Department of Architecture, “and already today there were people—including me—having lunch in the plaza.”

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