When Portland-based Skylab Architecture was asked by the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services to design an extension of a wastewater treatment facility, sustainability was immediately identified as a key priority. Not only did the architects need to design the public project to meet a minimum of LEED Gold certification, but the building would also have to serve an educational purpose by providing a working demonstration of onsite stormwater filtration. Completed in 2014, the award-winning Columbia Building successfully meets its design targets with an attractive green roof and a visible stormwater management system. 

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metal and concrete wastewater treatment building near water

Located south of the Columbia River and about 9 miles north of downtown Portland, the 11,640-square-foot Columbia Building primarily serves as a workspace for the wastewater treatment’s engineering department. The building also includes a visitor reception area and public meeting spaces. Large windows with operable air circulation vents and mirrored glass along the north facade frame views toward a partially enclosed Commons area and the riverine landscape beyond. 

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building with seven green roofs
off-kilter glazing on the outside of a concrete building

From afar, the single-story building draws the eye with its seven folded, cast-in-place concrete roof forms designed to channel and filter stormwater into a visible water collection system. After passing through the series of green roofs, the stormwater is drained along landscape berms for further filtration. The treated water is finally discharged back into the Columbia River.

gray reception area
gray meeting room with large windows

“This project accomplished three unique objectives in one single campus site: we created a vibrant and efficient workspace, clean on-site stormwater filtration and a dynamic conversation around the health of the surrounding watershed all working for clean rivers,” the architects noted in a project description. The Columbia Building has received nearly a dozen awards, including the 2015 Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design: American Architecture Award and the 2014 ASLA Oregon Award of Excellence.

+ Skylab Architecture

Photography by Jeremy Bittermann via Skylab Architecture

aerial view of building with green roofs