by Jesse Walton

In 2020, I co-authored a blog post that showcased Mahlum’s history of incorporating sustainable strategies into our work and our prioritization of performance in pursuit of carbon neutral buildings in alignment with our participation in the AIA 2030 Commitment. That post stated, “We now have measurable data that shows us where we are in relation to the goals of the AIA 2030 Commitment, and how much further we must go to get there.” In the spirit of transparency, I invite you to learn why we and the AEC industry will most likely not achieve net-zero emissions by 2030. I hesitated to publicly acknowledge this potential failure; but as we look at the realities of our industry’s impact on our current climate emergency, we need to be honest with ourselves now more than ever.

Mahlum has a current pEUI reduction of 67% which is well above the AIA 2030 signatory firm average of 48%. While our progress has steadily been tracking towards net-zero energy we need to improve by ~5% annually to reach net-zero and our recent progress is only ~3%, highlighting that success is far from guaranteed.

Below are four endemic reasons why I believe we (and other firms) may not reach the intended target by 2030, but I also share why (and how) Mahlum continues to push our work to make our buildings low-carbon.



REASON 1: Energy Codes Are Not Stringent Enough
Many of Mahlum’s projects go above and beyond the energy code prescriptive minimums, but most of our work is at or very close to the minimum energy code requirements. Without more progressive codes that require 80%+ energy reductions and also mandate renewables, our work on average will not achieve net-zero emissions. Some energy codes in the US have pushed past 60% reduction from the CBECS 2003 Baseline but the vast majority are well below a level required to achieve the current AIA 2030 Commitment target of 80%. The US DOE Building Energy Code Program: Status of State Energy Code Adoption shows that most states do not adopt the latest energy code which all but guarantees nationally the building industry will not meet the lofty goals of the AIA 2030 Commitment as most buildings are built to the state or local code prescriptive minimum requirements.

REASON 2: Net-Zero Operational Carbon is Complex
Operational and avoided emissions from renewables are measured differently by different stakeholders in our industry and there is no single method of calculating your operational emissions. Depending on the methodology, tool, or story you are trying to tell, the numbers can be very different.

Some firms use the Energy Star Portfolio Manager Technical Reference on GHG Emissions, others use ASHRAE 228, and others use professional judgment on which historic emissions rates from the eGrid Data Explorer make most sense, e.g. Sub-Regions, State, or Power Plant. Then there is the time-frame in which you measure emissions. We are used to thinking about energy in building operations in a per year time-frame but emission rates change hourly and over years so you can estimate very different operating emissions if you are using historic annual “Average Emissions” or the predictive hourly “Long-run Marginal Emissions Rates” as estimated in the NREL Cambium Scenario Viewer. The White House (Biden Administration) has also recently dipped it’s toe into the debate about operating emissions in its RFI for a National Definition of a Zero Emissions Building.


REASON 3: Embodied Carbon Accounting is Nascent
The general public and AEC professionals alike have been trained to think about buildings and their impacts on the planet as an energy efficiency issue when in fact the impact comes from the emissions created from the building’s whole life cycle. Construction, renovation, and demolition of a building, often called “Embodied Carbon” has a significant impact in comparison to the operational emissions. In fact, a recent CLF (Carbon Leadership Forum) study finds the emissions generated from constructing a building are often greater than operating it over its lifetime.

The tools currently available make it easier for designers to quantify our decisions on low-carbon design but the data is still being created and collected for many scopes of work. We applaud the work in the structural design and construction industry to address their high carbon impact materials like concrete and steel with more availability of EPD’s (Environmental Product Declarations) but quantifying other building elements like MEP systems, casework, finishes, landscape, and construction activities are still in early development.

REASON 4: Carbon Offsets Are Often Dubious
Offsetting energy to get to net-zero energy is a relatively simple calculation: 100kWh of use minus 100kWh of production equals net-zero energy. Offsetting operational emissions by calculating avoided emissions is more complex (see Reason 2 above), and assurance of high quality global Embodied Carbon offsets is almost magical thinking.

For example, in 2019, Mahlum offset the 90mt of embodied carbon we emitted when renovating our new Portland office with a $1,600 Green-e Certified carbon offset to ensure we would achieve Living Building Challenge (LBC) Materials Petal certification. While this was technically responsible on our part, the low cost of this carbon offset (<$20/mt) still varies greatly from the US EPA Social Cost of Carbon at >$150/mt in 2030, which would have put our Portland office carbon offsets cost at $14,000.

The LMN Path to Zero Carbon said it beautifully, “To be blunt, many offset programs fail to meet many basic criteria that align with carbon neutrality goals, which is why some are so inexpensive.” I hope the voluntary and compliance carbon offset markets mature so it becomes simpler for the AEC industry and building owners to be assured that their purchased carbon offsets are high-quality and less questionable.

In spite of everything outlined above, the fact is that Mahlum will keep pushing to make low-carbon design a reality. We will:

1. Continue to measure, synthesize, and share our energy, operational, and embodied emissions annually with the AIA 2030 Commitment and other partnerships like the CLF Benchmarking Study v2. This will keep us honest about where we are in relation to our low-carbon goals and contribute to the industry’s growth and knowledge.

2. Continue our culture of design, education, and volunteerism around low-carbon buildings but acknowledge that the ways we measure and achieve these goals is nascent and evolving.

3. Update our Sustainability Action Plan (SAP) in relation to our Vision and Values. Currently our SAP is an addendum to Mahlum’s Vision and Values as they were not created at the same time but considering the current climate emergency they should be unified.

4. Help simplify the data visualization process for the AIA 2030 Commitment community by freely sharing the Tableau Public Low Carbon Design Dashboards we’ve been developing. We hope our pEUI, Operational, and Embodied Carbon visualizations help firms explore their AIA 2030 Commitment data and find meaningful trends and areas of improvement. Mahlum’s Low-Carbon Design Dashboard is now available here (and is shown as a screenshot below) for any AIA 2030 Commitment signatory to use with their firm’s DDx data export.


Thank you to Mahlum’s 2030 “Birddogs” who work diligently with our project teams to collect 2030 data; to Michelle Amt at VMDO and Dan Stien at Lake Flato for beta testing our Low Carbon Dashboards; and to Jack Rusk at EHDD for his help with the operational emissions calculations. 2030 or bust!

by Marijana Misic


Mahlum endeavors to revisit our completed projects with the specific intent to learn and adapt our design solutions to support users’ needs. Alma Clark Glass Hall (ACGH) at Western Washington University (WWU) was designed using an inclusionary process with a specific focus on learning through student listening sessions. In honor of Alma Clark Glass (whom the building is named after and was the first Black female student to attend WWU), the creation of the first Black Affinity Housing community on WWU’s campus found its home in ACGH, providing the opportunity for Black students to live together in a safe and welcoming environment. After being operational for three years, we looked forward to discovering how the building was functioning for its residents, specifically the Black Affinity Housing community.

Kurt Haapala and I reached out to Leonard Jones, Director of University Residences, and Vicki Vanderwerf, (former) Associate Director of University Residences, to schedule a discussion with Black Affinity Housing residents to see if the design of the residence hall is supporting their specific needs. Hosting a dinner, we broke bread with students who volunteered to participate, sharing with them our objectives for the evening and giving a short presentation to provide insight into the original design intent. We then invited an open dialogue around student experiences living in ACGH. Through these discussions, a handful of themes stood out as valuable feedback for consideration when designing for affinity-based communities in the future.


Open and Transparent
A theme that surfaced numerous times (in numerous ways) was the openness and transparency of the building which students associated with a sense of safety because, “…there are no blind corners where someone can hide.” Students also appreciated that transparency allows for more daylight and views of nature, which was one of the design team’s intended original goals.

Campus Location
Not surprising was the students’ appreciation of Alma Clark Glass Hall’s centralized location, with convenient access to the Viking Union building, Red Square, and other academic and support services. Site and proximity matter and are significant in supporting inclusion, sending a strong signal to the campus at large that their community is viewed as important.


Enhancing Visibility
An area we will seek to improve upon in the future after hearing student feedback is to better enhance community visibility. Currently, Black Affinity Housing occupies one half of a floor in ACGH’s south wing, but some Black Affinity members live in the north wing. This disconnect happened due to unit type distribution and housing affordability, resulting in a weakened sense of connection and Black identity.

Students also shared how we might better celebrate community identity in public spaces in the future. While flags, banners, and artwork are being posted by residents along corridor walls, a specifically designed location at community entries would feel more intentional. (Our team received the same feedback from the Pride Housing community located just one level below.)

The Shared Journey
Students clearly understand and appreciate the concept of the Shared Journey accessible pathway (learn more here) in promoting access not only to Alma Clark Glass Hall but to the greater Ridgeway housing neighborhood. But after dinner, during a walking tour of the residence hall, Kurt and I had an incredible and impromptu conversation with a student who identified as a wheelchair user. They noted that while the ability to partake in the Shared Journey is appreciated, the initial ramp from the city sidewalk is challenging to navigate. This person’s lived experience informed us that the design solution, while ADA compliant, could have better accommodated moments of respite along the steeper ramp sections.

The Basics Matter
While trying to provide a truly equitable living environment for all, basic items still need to work as intended. The elevators generated a lot of comments including sudden movements, various noises, concern of getting stuck, etc. Even though elevators are complex, engineered transportation systems, these small impressions leave some students feeling an uneasiness in using them. And students will share their feelings and impressions with others – so much so it can become legend!

Another basic building element presenting a challenge to students is the door closing mechanism to one of the accessible shower rooms. Residents of this floor have begun propping the door open to support their community members who use mobility devices. This may be a very simple fix, but it is a “small” detail that can make a daily, negative impact on someone’s living experience.


Kurt and I were humbled by the opportunity to spend an evening meeting and talking with the ACGH students. We are especially grateful to the Black Affinity Housing residents who took time out of their day and graciously shared their living experience with us, as we recognize this can entail an emotional commitment and openness to vulnerability. We came away from this experience with a better understanding how to lean into design strategies that have proven successful at Alma Clark Glass Hall and where we can improve. In addition, we were able to compose a list of maintenance and improvement items that WWU facilities can address to further improve day-to-day operations that support their commitment to Accessibility, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

Reflecting on what we learned, we look forward to improving our process and outcomes, sharing our experience with our colleagues, and elevating equitable experiences for all students as we continue to design for inclusion on WWU and other campuses.

by Bryan Hollar

Located about 20 miles south of Portland, Oregon is a small, tight-knit, historically rural community with a quaint downtown surrounded by farmland and the world’s largest Dahlia farm. It is home to longstanding traditions such as the Clackamas County Fair, an annual Fourth of July parade, and high school football games, where much of the town gathers on Friday nights. It’s a place where one’s sense of identity is inextricably intertwined with one’s sense of community. This might sound like a typical “small-town America,” but it’s not. This is Canby, Oregon, and this is my hometown.

Growing up in Canby, my interest in design was fostered from a young age. As a child, I would use leftover wood from house projects to build treehouses in my backyard. Once I was in middle school and high school, I signed up for every art and design-related class that the Canby School District had to offer, including ceramics, sculpture, drawing, painting, graphic design, woodworking, and architecture. Looking back, I’m so grateful I was able to enroll in such a large variety of design courses and I still value the expertise of the teachers who led them.

Rene Berndt reviews Bryan Hollar's work

After graduating from Canby High School, my interest in design led me to pursue a degree in architecture at the University of Oregon. My interest in K-12 facility design was inspired by education-focused design studios and K-12 school tours led by visiting professionals. Rene Berndt, a Project Designer with Mahlum, demonstrated to us how schools can be more than “factories for learning” and how thoughtful design can influence student behavior, improve learning outcomes, and help build community. These values deeply resonated with me, leading me to stay connected with Rene after graduating from college and ultimately joining him at Mahlum in 2016.

As a member of Mahlum’s K-12 educational studio, I’ve found myself reflecting on my own school experiences. Though I enjoyed my time at Canby High School, I realize now that much of the built environment was dark, difficult to navigate, and lacked spaces to socialize. While I had accepted this as status quo at the time, I now realize me and my fellow students’ experiences were the result of a school facility lacking in thoughtfully designed spaces to support its community. Little did I know I would soon be given the opportunity to help address some of these issues.

In 2020, we were preparing a proposal to win the design contract for improving Canby School District’s facilities. As an educational facility architect and former Canby resident, I was asked to join the proposed project team. It was exciting to participate not only in my first project interview, but it was also surreal because the interview took place in the same classroom where I took my first architecture class! As an integrated team member who could bring my personal experience to the work, my involvement demonstrated to the district Mahlum’s commitment towards thoughtful design centered in community empowerment. We were awarded the contract and began work on a district-wide Master Plan to gain clarity and consensus on how the bond scope could best impact the Canby community.

Taking place during the height of COVID lockdowns, the Master Plan process was conducted entirely online. While this initially proved challenging as all of us were learning to work in the virtual landscape, it ultimately created new opportunities to make our engagement process more equitable and inclusive. Our team developed new tools which enabled us to reach a broader range of stakeholders, including Canby’s Spanish-speaking members. Working with district translators, technology specialists, and a bilingual design team, virtual engagement sessions were simultaneously conducted in English and Spanish, allowing larger community input to be captured, synthesized, and broadcast back in real time during stakeholder meetings. This ultimately led to an engagement process that was truly representative of the diversity of Canby’s community.


During the Master Plan process, stakeholders shared that wayfinding, a lack of identity, and lack of spaces to support the community were issues plaguing the current Canby High School campus – experiences I knew all too well. Our team kicked off the planned projects by implementing the Master Plan’s first phase at Canby High School: a new addition to replace an aging science wing.

The high school addition is designed to house new classrooms, science labs, and support spaces filled with fresh finishes and modern technology, while also addressing long-standing community concerns. The new structure forms an outdoor plaza adjacent to the track and field, fulfilling the need for a gathering space during football games and other large community events and celebrations. A double-height interior commons will serve as a new community “living room” and will bring daylight deep into the dark interior portions of the building. Previously dark, meandering hallways will be replaced with light-filled corridors that serve as better wayfinding, a gallery for student artwork, and alcoves to foster student socializing and collaboration.

With a sincere commitment to community empowerment, our design team has continued to engage with the school community during design and into construction – using the entire project process as a learning opportunity for the high school students. In addition to our initial outreach and engagement processes, we invited the high school leadership class to provide input on the furniture selection, journalism students interviewed me for a story about the proposed building design that was then featured in their student-led TV news program, and the graphic design class created a new school logo that will be displayed on a wood accent wall in the commons.


As the project nears completion and prepares to open this fall, I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to work on improvements to my own alma mater, and to be able to give back to the community that invested so much in me. This is the place where I was inspired to pursue a career in architecture, and I can think of no more meaningful way to empower this community than by using my skills as an architect to positively impact Canby for generations to come.

We’d like to thank the project team for their incredible work:

Owner: Canby School District
Project Management: Cornerstone Management Group
Contractor: Bremik Construction
Architect/Interiors: Mahlum
Landscape Architect: Walker Macy
Civil Engineer: Harper Houf Peterson Righellis
Structural Engineer: catena consulting engineers
Electrical/Technology Engineer: Reyes Engineering
Mechanical/Plumbing: Arris Consulting
Building Envelope: Professional Roofing Consultants
Acoustics: Acoustic Design Studio
Food Service Design: Halliday Associates

By Marijana Misic

In 2017, the University of Washington Bothell (UWB) and Cascadia College engaged Mahlum to lead their Campus Master Plan (CMP) in which a bold vision for the future development of their co-located Bothell campus was established. A critical component of the campus vision was to redevelop Husky Village, a 1980s-era apartment complex on a 4.4-acre site that had been repurposed into student residences a decade earlier.

The University’s desire to create a residential campus experience for its first year through upper-class students has resulted in the ~305,000 GSF Husky Village Redevelopment project. Currently under phased construction, the project consists of three, six-story residence halls that will hold 1,055 new student beds, and a separate two-level cross-laminated timber (CLT) structure that will serve as a dedicated dining hall for the residents as well as the broader campus community.

To achieve timely project delivery, UWB created a new form of partnership for the campus — a ground lease agreement between themselves and Capstone Development Partners (CDP). CDP is developing the project, and its affiliate Capstone Management Partners will operate and maintain the four-building facility for up to 70 years. The Design-Build team of Andersen Construction and Mahlum joined Capstone to realize this $160M project, scheduled for phased completion by June 2023 and August 2024.

Those of us in the AEC industry know that projects need to be completed “on time and on budget.” This decree became a little less predictable during the pandemic, which overlapped with the start of project design. Due to nationwide price escalations and material shortages, the Design-Build team had to make difficult choices to uphold design integrity while fulfilling the project mission of “maintaining well-designed yet efficient buildings delivered at a price that will ensure affordable units for the students.”

The project schedule also hinged on a timely permit review process. The City of Bothell’s significant contribution to keep the review cycles on schedule was a benefit to all, making the planned construction start in December 2021 a reality. But then the team hit an unforeseen obstacle — the Seattle Teamsters strike which halted concrete manufacturing and delivery. While we waited for the conclusion of strike negotiations, the Construction Team kept their focus on demolition completion, site clearing, and preparation, while the Design Team expedited shop drawings and submittal reviews. The delay caused by the strike ended up benefiting the project by allowing for a more thorough drawings review, which in turn minimized errors and rework later during construction.

Even though the construction start was delayed from Winter 2021 to Spring 2022, the Design-Build team adopted an attitude of “One Team One Dream” — working together to manage and maintain the overall schedule, with construction slated to be completed on time.

This project would not have been possible without the incredible work from the project team:

Developer: Capstone Development Partners
Contractor: Andersen Construction
Architect/Interiors: Mahlum
Landscape: Walker Macy
Civil Engineer: OTAK
Structural Engineer: KPFF
Energy/LEED: Rushing Company
Building Envelope: Morrison Hershfield
Acoustics: A3 Acoustics
Accessibility: Studio Pacifica
Mechanical and Plumbing Engineer: Auburn Mechanical
Electrical: Berg Electric
Fire Suppression: Western States Fire Protection
Surveyor: David Evans and Associates

By Jeff Goldblatt and Katie Felver

Widely accepted by the global scientific community, our planet is approaching a “tipping point” of irreversible climate change. We are seeing this evidence with the ever-increasing intensity and frequency of natural disasters having catastrophic impacts. Scientific research has linked carbon emissions as a fundamental catalyst of climate change. While there are metrics to help set goals towards carbon reduction in many industries, including our own, one thing is for certain – we need to reduce the amount of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere as quickly as possible.

Within the design and construction industry, decades of research and development have gone into current energy efficiency standards. These standards generally focus on energy consumption and carbon emissions of buildings over the course of a building’s life, known as operational carbon. However, there is a significant portion of the carbon emission story that is missing which is known as embodied carbon.

Defined as “the greenhouse gas emissions arising from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials,” embodied carbon emissions will be responsible for almost half of all new construction between now and 2050. Embodied carbon is locked into place as soon as the building is built and therefore, should be factored into the design and construction carbon reduction mindset.

Tracking and reducing embodied carbon emissions is new to most mainstream architectural design practices. For carbon data to be accurate, it often needs to come from manufacturers, and obtaining this data can sometimes be wrought with obstacles. Additionally, the new tools being used to test and quantify the carbon impacts of our designs depend on data that can typically be more generic than is helpful. The good news is that certified transparency documentation from product manufacturers is growing by the day, and we believe carbon tracking and reporting will soon become an industry standard practice.


In 2009, Mahlum signed the AIA 2030 Commitment, pledging to prioritize energy performance in pursuit of carbon neutral buildings by the year 2030. When we moved from our previous Portland office to a new space in 2019, we had committed to designing a net zero embodied carbon office. We knew our new office had to live up to our commitment of creating a carbon neutral future so we could be more honest advocates to ourselves, and the clients we serve.

Architect Carl Elefante coined the phrase, “the greenest building is… the one that is already built.” Keeping this in mind while searching for our new office location, Mahlum chose to move into 7,400 SF of what was once a metal stamping facility inside a 1939 warehouse building, located in Portland’s Central Eastside. Eventually renamed Custom Blocks Studio, the industrial aesthetic of exposed wood beams and steel structure inspired the team, seeing potential design benefits and carbon reduction opportunities.

Using the web-based tool Build Carbon Neutral, the team set out to establish an overall “embodied carbon budget” for the project. We began by calculating for a like-sized, new office construction project, which Build Carbon Neutral determined to be 195 metric tons of CO2. Wanting to understand what the carbon savings could be for a renovation (instead of building new), we cut the new construction number in half and landed on 97.5 metric tons of CO2 as our reduced embodied carbon budget target.

During design documentation and construction, we continually referenced that carbon budget target of 97.5 against subsequently more developed and robust Tally Whole Building Life Cycle Analysis analytics. A detailed embodied carbon analysis was performed, using the Tally software plug-in for Revit (our building information modeling program), allowing us to quantify life-cycle impacts of materials we designed for with material take-off quantities directly from the 3D Revit model.


Throughout design and construction, the team endeavored to balance carbon reductions with other components such as material health and local sourcing. Overarching project goals were to: Use less stuff, use better stuff, and offset the rest.

The aerial rendering of our new office space below illustrates some of our strategies:

Taking a whole building approach to our analysis, the team evaluated the embodied carbon footprint over a 50-year span of the building’s life – known as a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). We took a conservative approach to material replacement and “service life” assumptions, in part because we knew we weren’t able to quantify some of the materials within the casework, floor base, furniture, and/or equipment. Thus, the cradle-to-grave approach was chosen to reflect anticipated impacts of interior finishes more accurately over time.

Having spent over 20 years in our previous office, we were able to benchmark service life assumptions against our past operations and maintenance. We understand that LCA by its very nature is both imprecise and rapidly evolving, therefore our design team made conservative assumptions to ensure our accounting was representative of the finished product.



Research and analysis enabled us to interpret the impact our new office would have on global carbon emissions. Once the final numbers came in, we were thrilled to see all of our efforts paid off. Through rigorous design decisions, our original embodied carbon target budget of 97.5 metric tons was reduced to 74.4 metric tons of CO2 – the equivalent of 16 passenger vehicles driven for one year.

But we wanted to do more. Holding ourselves accountable for the 74.4 metric tons of CO2 we produced, we purchased equal amounts of carbon offsets with a donation to Terrapass. One of many organizations that fund large carbon emission drawdown projects, donating to Terrapass helps fund projects such as reforestation, renewable energy produced by wind power and methane capture at dairy farms, and landfill gas capture.

With the combination of rigorous design and the purchase of carbon offsets, the Custom Blocks Studio is now considered a net-zero embodied carbon office.

Building off the research that went into Custom Blocks Studio, Mahlum is now setting aggressive carbon reduction goals for all of its projects. We have begun a process that includes acquiring detailed project data, educating our staff to utilize available tools and resources, and building a database to compare and analyze all future projects to meet our AIA 2030 Commitment pledge. Firm wide benchmarks and tested carbon reduction strategies will inform our design process and ultimately help all of our clients decrease the carbon impact of their buildings to move towards a carbon neutral future.



All people deserve to make the best personal healthcare decisions for themselves and their families. Today’s Supreme Court ruling has denied millions of people in the US the right to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions. We believe reproductive healthcare should be accessible to everyone in order to build healthier communities.

Mahlum Stands with Women.

Learn more about the Supreme Courts overturning of Roe v Wade from the Associated Press.

By Joseph Mayo

A few years ago, several of us here at Mahlum wondered why more mass timber K-12 schools, especially larger and multi-story structures, were not being built in Washington State. Our research showed that building codes did not appear to be a major impediment, and several mass timber manufacturers were already established or had recently come on-line in the region, meaning supply was not a problem either. We had also witnessed evidence of mass timber’s environmental benefits, as well as benefits to the state’s economy and jobs. So we asked ourselves what the issues might be. Was the lack of mass timber schools related to cost? Or structural design? Or maybe the concept of multi-story, mass timber K-12 schools is just too new and therefore perceived as too risky?

To find answers to these questions, we formed an expert mass timber team comprised of Mahlum staff and consultant firms and submitted a proposal to the USDA/US Forest Service for a Wood Innovations Grant to explore the feasibility and benefits of multi-story K-12 schools. With the grant approved, we embarked on a two-year long study and wrote a report with our findings titled United States Forest Service Wood Innovation Report: Multi-Story Mass Timber K-12 Schools. Click here to download a PDF of the final report.

When we applied for the Wood Innovations Grant, our proposal was to compare a prototypical 2-3 story mass timber school to one built predominantly of structural steel (the current norm for multi-story K-12 schools in Washington). Once the grant was secured, the team dissected all aspects of the two different construction types and analyzed them in terms of design flexibility, embodied carbon, indoor environmental quality, acoustics, mechanical distribution, structural framing, sourcing, constructability, and cost.

At the heart of this report is a demonstration that the use of local, natural, carbon sequestering materials can offer a broad benefit for climate health, as well as the health of building occupants and our communities. What’s more, taking a holistic view of construction and cost shows mass timber can compete economically with other standard building materials. We hope that you will read and share this report with others.

This project would not have been possible without generous funding from the USDA/US Forest Service, as well as the incredible hard work and donated time from the project team:

Architect: Mahlum Architects
Contractor and Cost: Walsh Construction
Structural Engineer: Fast+Epp
MEP and Technology Engineer: PAE Engineers
Acoustical Engineer: Arup
Mass Timber Supplier: Vaagen Timbers
K-12 “Client”: Sequim School District

If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at:


By Emma Nolan

Black United Fund of Oregon (BUF) is the longest-standing Black-led, (B)IPOC-focused Foundation statewide. From their home in Portland’s historic Alberta Neighborhood, they fulfill their mission to assist in the social and economic development of Oregon’s underserved communities and to contribute to a broader understanding of culturally diverse groups. BUF fulfills its mission through work in three central areas: post-secondary pathways for youth, grassroots and emergent leadership development, and community justice and equity initiatives. This work currently takes place both on and off-site. Their current building provides limited resources for engagement with students and non-profits. A new facility will bring those programs under the same roof and provide the opportunity to form new partnerships with like-minded organizations. These relationships will further build resilience and unity for (B)IPOC communities served by BUF as well as the greater tri-county areas.

To help envision this future, Mahlum conducted a series of workshops with BUF executive stakeholders in the spring of 2020. The goal was not just to understand the programmatic needs for a new building but more importantly, the ways in which it will celebrate the Foundation’s vision. Learning that many (B)IPOC youth do not see their futures in Portland and therefore migrate to more supportive or inclusive cities underlines the importance of BUF’s work. Although BUF has supported the futures of (B)IPOC youth for almost 40 years, it’s vital to celebrate BUF’s accomplishments and create a place for (B)IPOC youth to imagine a future in which they can grow and thrive locally.

The mural celebrating Black women of the Civil Rights located on BUF’s current building is inspired by evoking history to speak to the future. Even in the early planning stages of this project, BUF’s mural was identified as a critical element to preserve. Created in 2015, it has served as a backdrop in graduation photos for many of the students BUF has supported, as well as many various community members. Titled “A Voice to be Thankful For,” the mural is a reminder of the voices that have created real and lasting change.

Gazing back at the work and lives of historical figures such as Ruby Bridges, Angela Davis, and Maya Angelou reminds us of the equity work left to do and the impact just one person can have on their community. This mural, with women depicted in bold, eye-catching colors by local artists Eatcho and Jeremy Nichols, restores a sense of place to NE Portland and makes a powerful impression that BUF is a welcoming place ready to serve the community. (Learn more about the importance of this mural in a video produced by Vox Siren: “The Hope – Stories from the Black United Fund Mural.”)

It has been moving to imagine an architecture that is able to weave the stories we have shared into the fabric of the design. In our sessions, we’ve shared personal stories about the impact education has on our lives. Educators show us possibilities, encouraging us to challenge the status quo. We’ve talked about what makes a community. Highlighting BUF’s presence on Alberta will be a home away from home for a community that has largely been dispersed due to gentrification throughout Portland and beyond. Themes of empowerment, homecoming, engagement, and reflection emerged. These concepts will become guiding principles in the design for BUF’s future building.

The resulting facility will be an intentional community of partners, tenants, and users of the space who are committed to racial equity and social, economic, and environmental justice. From being a safe place for youth of all backgrounds, to a gathering place for collaboration among BIPOC- and female-led and -serving organizations, to a place the public can proactively help solve Portland’s myriad challenges, “Our Presence Has Power” (BUF’s motto) is truly the ethos and the driving force of this project. In addition, because the new, larger building can house more emerging and smaller nonprofits, these grassroots efforts will have new and expanded power under the supportive guidance of peers, mission-aligned partners, like-minded foundations, and others. Already dubbed the Building United Futures Complex (or B.U.F. Complex) early in the process, the complex will remain open for public use and will further grow as a symbol of a progressive, changing Portland.

As part of Mahlum’s commitment to community, it is an honor to work on this project with Black United Fund of Oregon and Adre, an equity-centered real estate development company. Mahlum shares BUF’s belief that “education is a catalyst for change” and strives to build a community where new futures can be not only imagined but realized.

Thank you to BUF for their contributions to this story. If you wish to learn more about Black United Fund of Oregon, or to volunteer, support, or donate to their organization, visit their website.

By Joseph Mayo

Young children make sense of the world by engaging with the physical environment through movement and the use of their senses. We simply refer to this as learning. However, like the work of a scientist, when children engage in play, they use touch, smell, sound, sight, and taste to experiment, discover and synthesize their encounters. Creating environments that promote these experimental and experiential activities can lead to better learning and developmental outcomes, especially for early learners. Similarly, strengthening connections with nature by utilizing natural and non-toxic materials, and incorporating other biophilic strategies, can create a supportive and sustainable learning environment for infants, toddlers, and preschool learners.

This was the central vision for the new Capitol Campus Childcare Center at the Washington State Capitol. The facility, an initiative of First Lady Trudi Inslee, is a model for nature-based early learning, returning childcare to the Capitol Campus after a 13-year absence.

First Lady Inslee explains:
“As parents and grandparents, Jay and I appreciate the importance of early learning. We have long believed quality childcare should be available and affordable to all working families. We want current and prospective employees to view our state as an employer of choice by providing close proximity of childcare to the workplace. This will not only provide convenience but will also result in greater employee productivity as parents experience the peace and security of having their children close by. Hopefully this model will be replicated by other employers in the state.”

The Capitol Childcare Center is a model for 21st century childcare facilities. Focusing on nature and health, the center will be an optimal place for our early learners to develop and experience the world.

A Green Gateway
Nature-inspired elements not only abound inside the building, but outside as well. Upon arrival, children, staff, and visitors are greeted by native shrubs, fruit trees, granite boulders, and locally harvested logs set within the landscape. A deep, protective overhang highlighted by Western Red Cedar and Douglas Fir is filled with daylight and creates a warm welcome into this approximately 10,000 SF facility.

Situated at the southwest corner of the Capitol Campus, the new building creates a green gateway into the State Capitol with nearly 40 new trees and a variety of native and adapted shrubs and grasses. As an entry to the Capitol Campus, the project provides improved accessibility with widened sidewalks, curb ramps and a new pedestrian crossing at Capitol Way to better serve pedestrians traveling to the Capitol and surrounding buildings. Existing connections to the East Plaza are improved and expanded upon so that adults, as well as the children, can easily access the park-like setting and pedestrian overpass that leads to the Capitol Building. Through close integration, the building and landscape function together to strengthen the Capitol Campus and provide a stimulating, natural setting for the children occupying the Center.

Nature-Based Play
Nature-Deficit Disorder was introduced in 2005 with Richard Louv’s publication of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Richard’s work posits that human beings, especially children, are spending less time connecting to the natural and outdoor environment and this change is producing a wide range of behavioral problems and is resulting in a negative impact on childhood development. Each of the building’s six classrooms have direct access to an outdoor classroom so children can get their hands dirty and experience the outside world first-hand. Pathways, plantings, and nature-based play equipment like timber steppers, log tunnels and balance beams, boulders, hillocks, and timber stages balance discovery with development of gross motor skills, balance, and tactility. The design is a direct response to Richard’s ideas creating an opportunity for the children to connect to nature through play.

The secure, exterior spaces are planted with a variety of shrubs, grasses, and fruiting and flowering trees to stimulate the senses and attract pollinators and birds. Play structures are constructed from minimally processed natural logs and boards, with organic shapes and textures.

Deep overhangs provide shelter for outdoor activities during frequent Northwest rains, and roof scuppers highlight the path of water on the site. The roof scuppers direct rainwater into a stream before being carried away to nearby Budd Inlet, offering another way for the children to connect to their environment by tracing the path of water. The building’s overhangs protect Western Red Cedar siding, providing a natural backdrop for the learning environments.

Biophilia is defined as “a hypothetical human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature: a desire or tendency to commune with nature” by Merriam Webster. In 1984, Edward Wilson published a slim volume titled Biophilia. In it, Wilson proposed the term (which translates to “love of life”), to define what he observed as humans’ innate tendency to focus on living things, as opposed to the inanimate. Since then, researchers have given his intuitive idea validity through rigorous peer reviewed research. Biophilic design elements – like access and views to nature, the presence of biomorphic shapes, and natural materials – have been shown to decrease blood pressure and improve creative performance, comfort, reduce stress, and promote greater satisfaction (Tsunetsugu, Miyazaki & Sato, 2007). Terrapin’s14 Patterns of Biophilic Design” articulates and collects much of this emerging research into three distinct patterns which explore the relationships between nature, human biology, and the design of the built environment so that we may experience the human benefits of biophilia in our design applications.


Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT)
One of the ways the new facility promotes a Biophilic response is through the State of Washington’s emerging Mass Timber industry. The project’s roof is constructed from cross laminated timber (CLT), the first use of this innovative material on the Capitol Campus. CLT is large, prefabricated wood panels made of, in this case, Northwest grown Douglas Fir. This emerging high-tech timber industry is creating new, high paying jobs in rural Washington and placing a priority on harnessing sustainable material and forestry practices. Of the approximately 11,500 square feet of CLT, many of the panels used on the project are over 40-feet long and were all pre-cut to exact specifications. The structural capacity of CLT is highlighted by cantilevering the panels and creating deep, protective overhangs around the building. A self-adhered vapor barrier was pre-applied at the CLT manufacturing facility before shipping the panels to site. Despite heavy rains throughout the October installation, this protective membrane kept the panels pristine, dry and reduced construction time on-site. The CLT used on the project has a net carbon sequestration of nearly 8,500 kgCO2e – the amount of emissions generated by approximately 1,850 passenger vehicles driven for one year. This type of construction not only saves time and supports the local economy, but when left exposed as the finished ceiling in each of the classrooms can create a “comfortable” feeling documented by Tsunetsugu, Miyazaki & Saito.

Healthy Materials
In addition to the integration of CLT, the remainder of the interior prioritizes elements made of natural, non-toxic materials, as well as nature inspired colors and shapes. Children are especially susceptible to pollutants like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the environment, which can inhibit lung growth and cause other long-term health problems. Products like gypsum wall board, paint, acoustical wall panels, carpet, casework and trim makeup the vast majority of interior materials. All these materials, and more, were vetted to be either inherently non-emitting or have Greenguard Gold certification, demonstrating ultra-low VOC emissions. The selection of these materials provides enhanced indoor air quality and a healthy environment for young children.

Many of these materials are also Red List free, meaning that their manufacturing avoids harmful chemicals and compounds. Douglas Fir wood doors, frames, relites, and trim are used throughout the facility as a safe, natural material that also strengthens the biophilic response of staff, teachers, and students. Simulating patterns found in nature is another way to create a calming and healthy interior environment. Large nature-inspired area rugs that mimic the color and texture of grasses are used through the classrooms. To ensure optimal acoustical performance, natural hued sound absorbing wall panels, which double as tack boards, are also used throughout. Round suspended lights are hung from the CLT ceiling to create a pattern that emphasizes movement and visual interest. The use of cedar cladding in outdoor classrooms brings the warm, rich texture and patterning of wood to child level, again strengthening biophilia.

Carbon Draw-Down
Every manufactured building material has an inherent “carbon footprint” associated with greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing carbon emissions in material production and transportation is a primary way the construction industry can fight climate change. The use of wood was a critical strategy in the reduction of embodied carbon (CO2) for the Center and was the optimal choice to meet Governor Inslee’s commitment to promote sustainable design practices in Washington State. Environmental impacts are reduced when using wood as compared to steel and concrete. In fact, an in-house Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) study conducted by Mahlum Architects illustrated that the use of wood as the primary structural frame, in combination with other strategies reduced equivalent CO2 emissions 60 percent compared to a baseline steel frame building of identical size. All the wood framing in the project is sustainably certified, meaning harvested trees are replanted and will continue to sequester carbon from the atmosphere as they grow.

In Pursuit of Net Zero Energy
While embodied carbon is an important environmental impact, carbon emissions that occur through the building’s energy usage throughout its operational lifespan is another critical aspect of reducing the global impact of carbon emissions in the built environment. Driving down operational energy use and associated carbon emissions is a priority for the State of Washington and the Capitol Campus. Washington State Executive Order 20-01 mandates new building construction be net-zero energy when construction costs allow. Because a large percent of Western Washington’s energy grid production is from clean hydroelectric power, eliminating fossil fuels from the building reduces overall carbon emissions due to operations. The Capitol Childcare Center is 100 percent electric with a net-zero ready roof area available for future photovoltaic (PV) array. Several strategies to reduce the Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of the building have been employed so that its full energy needs can be met by a future rooftop PV array. Power for the building is supplied from an off-site wind farm, but with a PV roof array the energy production will shift to on-site for net zero energy. An 88 kWh rooftop PV array is scheduled for installation beginning in mid-July 2021, fulfilling the Governor’s executive order for new construction to be net-zero energy.

To reduce heating and cooling needs, which can lead to considerable energy use and associated emissions, the building has a high performance, thermally efficient envelope. Exterior walls are framed using 2×8 wood studs, allowing more insulation than standard construction. The use of wood also reduces thermal bridging through the exterior wall assemblies. The project’s large windows not only allow ample daylight, provide visual access to nature throughout the building, and reduce the need for electrical lighting, but are made from fiberglass, one of the most thermally efficient window materials. Skylights in each classroom drive natural light deep into the classroom and provide an additional connection to the outside world, including the movement of the sun which helps children develop a sense of time while reducing the need for electric lighting. The windows and skylights serve another critical function of cooling the building during warmer weather. Each window is controlled by the Building Management System (BMS) and will open automatically depending on outside conditions to let fresh, cool air into the classrooms. The skylights are also operable, and when open, allow natural stack ventilation in the classrooms and promote natural, low-energy cooling. Ceiling fans are integrated as a final measure to keep spaces comfortable with minimal energy demands. The building’s roof is also super insulated, providing almost twice the insulation thickness of a standard code compliant roof. Together, these design strategies, combined with efficient LED lighting helps to substantially drive down energy use in the building by over 30% from a LEED baseline building. This equates to 12,805 kg CO2/yr (30,436 lbs CO2/yr) or the amount of carbon sequestered by 18 acres of forest land each year. The project is slated for completion in Summer/Fall 2021 and anticipated to achieve LEED Gold.

All spaces in the childcare facility receive 100% fresh air through the building’s ventilation system. The Dedicated Outdoor Air System (DOAS) is energy efficient due to low-velocity air movement, reduced fan loads, and smaller HVAC ducting. In addition, Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) is used to precondition in-coming fresh air by capturing waste heat and coolth as it is exhausted from the building. No air mixing occurs during this process, making it completely hygienic. Microbial contamination of ventilation air is not a concern with DOAS systems because no mixing of fresh and recirculated air occurs. This makes DOAS an excellent choice for ventilation air, especially with increased awareness of viral spread through air-born pathways.

Thanks to the vision and dedication of First Lady Trudi Inslee to support early childhood education, the Capitol Campus Childcare Center leverages a multitude of design strategies to create a diverse, healthy, and sustainable environment, both inside and out. These strategies support play, curiosity and serve as the foundation for life-long learning and growth. By achieving a pathway to net-zero energy and showcasing the benefits of cross laminated timber construction, this small but mighty addition to the Capitol Campus is an inspiring example of Washington State’s commitment to environmental stewardship, to an emerging industry, and an investment in our long-term future through early education.

Corrie Rosen has been elevated to Partner, joining Anne Schopf, David Mount, Mark Cork, and Kurt Haapala in leading the firm.

A graduate of Columbia University with a Master of Architecture degree, Corrie initially honed her architectural skills at A+I and Maya Lin Studio in New York City. She joined Mahlum in 2007 and has spent the last 14 years making a significant impact on the firm, focusing much of her efforts in promoting social justice and equity in the firm’s work.

“Corrie introduced and has led Mahlum’s Pro Bono and Commitment to Community programs, which have critically altered the trajectory of the firm’s culture and contribution to the communities we serve,” said Anne Schopf, Design Partner.

In her new role, Corrie will continue to deepen her focus on culture and community, both internally and externally, maintaining her commitment to sharing the important role of architecture and its ability to impact positive change. In Corrie’s own words, “I’ve made social outreach an integral part of my practice. I consider the built environment a laboratory – an opportunity to create stimulating new ways of learning and to empower students to effect positive change.”

The essence of Corrie’s commitment to community is demonstrated in her work with the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV). Leading the firm’s efforts to connect Mahlum with non-profits in the local community, Corrie recognized an opportunity to provide the WSCADV with pro bono architectural services to create design guidelines for shelters serving women and children. The resulting interactive online resource, Building Dignity: Design Strategies for Domestic Violence Shelter, has been leveraged locally, nationally, and internationally as a tool to assist designers and organizations to create supportive and safe environments for those in crisis.

Photo of Corrie Rosen working with Margaret Hobart
Corrie Rosen collaborating on Building Dignity with Margaret Hobart (formerly with Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence)

The creation of Building Dignity is just one example of how Corrie believes architects can serve those who might not normally seek them out. Her determination to show how thoughtful design can help empower parents, support children’s needs, and facilitate healing, is the reason Corrie’s elevation to Partner is critical to Mahlum’s commitment to addressing environmental and social justice both in the firm’s work, and in how they do the work.

Though Corrie has worked on a variety of award-winning projects since joining the firm, some of the most notable include Nathan Hale High School Modernization in Seattle, Arlington Elementary School in Tacoma, which received the 2019 AIA Institute Honor Award for Architecture, and most recently, Madrona School in Edmonds, winner of A4LE’s LESolutions Planning & Design Award for New Learning Environment in 2020. Corrie has also participated in speaking engagements, focusing on inclusive design, and creating successful pro bono programs.

During her time with Mahlum, Corrie has always maintained that, for her, architecture is not just about building physical structures, it’s also about building relationships. Internally, she supports and uplifts staff, valuing each person’s personality, value, interest, and commitment that helps shape our culture as a whole. Externally, she deeply listens to clients, users, partners, contractors, and communities. It is the process that she’s passionate about; the time spent with staff, users, and clients, working together to capture ideas and create spaces that support human connections and inspire joy.