This rendering courtesy of students Paul Harman and Dennis Beyer of the University of Oregon shows a solution to one of several problems offered up for a design competition in 2006 like the one planned this year. AP - AP

Portland challenges 'green' designers

PORTLAND — Portland's green. Portland's also growing. And the regional government — Metro — is asking architects, planners, ecologists, developers, and others to find solutions for development that are sensitive to both the built and the grown environments.

With its new Integrated Habitats design competition, Metro aims to lead or inspire by example.

Entrants will tackle three "prototypical" projects and sites: a residential infill project in an oak woodland, a commercial project in a wetland-adjacent area, and a larger mixed-use project in a riparian forest habitat.

Pushing ideas for sustainable economic development is especially important in the Portland region, said Josh Cerra, an environmental designer and project ecologist at David Evans and Associates.

"We really do believe there's a future for the built environment and the natural aspects that make Portland great," he said. "And it's going to be more important as our populations go up and our property values rise."

Cerra and Brook Muller are competition advisers. The pair have developed an urban ecology design studio at the University of Oregon. Cerras' background is in ecology and landscape architecture; Muller is an architect. Their histories merge in the Muller-led studio, where students have been tackling the contest scenarios. And bringing the two fields together, Cerra said, is what the competition is all about.

"It's that integration that's really going to be key in learning ways to provide spaces that are refuges for wildlife and opportunities for enjoyment for people," he said.

The effort is part of Metro's larger Nature in Neighborhoods program, a conservation initiative that focuses on urban ecosystem health.

Rolling out a contest, said Stacey Triplett, Nature in Neighborhoods team leader, is part of promoting low-impact, habitat-protective development.

"That will then encourage people to make the changes in their code and in their development as well," she said.

Metro's assembled a jury of design, development and ecological heavy hitters, including Stefan Behnisch of Behnisch Architects in Stuttgart, Germany; Metropolis magazine editor Susan Szenasy; Portland developer Jim Winkler; and Conservation Design Forum founder James Patchett.

Jury and people's choice selections will be collected in a design guide that will be handed out in 2008 through Metro's programs, as well as to winners and the academic community.

The guide, Triplett said, is "a key part of our protections in the region, but it's also a contribution outside the region, because these topics aren't getting talked about as much as they could."

Metro's expecting cutting-edge designs, said Metro Councilor Brian Newman, ones that can be handed to developers and local governments as models.

Newman said there is a range of practices that have not become conventional that can be incorporated, but won't necessarily increase costs.

"If we can identify what those are and teach people how to replicate them in this region, it will be a success," he said.

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