Online Exclusive: PSU to develop Ecological Plaza

Ecological Plaza is being built on the southeast corner of Shattuck Hall—a space formerly occupied by the Campus Public Safety Office.

Ecological Plaza is being built on the southeast corner of Shattuck Hall—a space formerly occupied by the Campus Public Safety Office. Ecological Plaza will serve as a place for researchers, community members and students to have hands-on experience with “green walls”. 

Green walls are plant-covered structures placed in urban settings that can help to control storm water, shade buildings to reduce energy costs, provide a habitat for pollinating insects and grow food for human consumption.  

“Land is kind of precious in cities, so it’s about creating these kinds of places for shade, food and habitat in urban settings,” said Jeff Schnabel, a Portland State architecture professor.

Schnabel is one of many who are collaborating on the project. Groups like CoSIE, Portland Metro and the PSU Engineering and Architecture departments all have an interest in the green wall research that will take place at Ecological Plaza.  

“Because some of these technologies are new, developers and designers are sometimes a little nervous about putting them in their buildings,” Schnabel said. “So the idea behind the lab is that we can do a full investigation to see how they perform in this climate and with different orientations, we can get a handle on the cost to build and maintain them and then gauge to see how they actually perform.”

CoSIE, a student group dedicated to sustainable projects in urban environments, brought funding for the project together.

“Part of CoSIE’s drive is to bring stakeholders together and try to find innovative ways to fund projects,” said CoSIE member Seth Moody.

Portland Metro is one of those providing funding. Metro wants to know how the green wall performs, in what situations it can be used and what benefits are expected to be gained from them.

“Metro’s interest is to quantify how these storm water features and green wall features impact our urban environment and the community they are placed in,” Moody said.

According to Schnabel, the primary function of the plaza is to offer a place for design professionals, developers, the public and students to come witness those investigations. The goal is that Ecological Plaza will serve as both a good public plaza and research facility.

The main frame and some of the steel and concrete from CPSO will all be recycled and used as foundation to build the plaza from, Moody said.

According to Moody, the first of the green walls will be built next summer as part of coursework at PSU; Ecological Plaza will officially open in the fall of 2011.

“The idea is to not make science this thing that takes place in a tower somewhere and is not accessible to everyone,” Moody said. “Ecology is very important to urban environment. Bring the ecology and the people together: It’s going to inform the public, [as well as] policy that will create a better place to live.”