An indoor swimming pool. It’s hard to imagine a less likely example of sustainable design. It may be fun for doing the backstroke, but a natatorium is a challenging ecological conundrum. The water in the pool needs to be constantly treated, filtered, and heated, and the entire facility has to be properly lit and temperature controlled. The HVAC complications alone are enough to send the most experienced designer to the kiddie pool. But despite the odds, Portland, Ore.–based SERA Architects dove in and recently competed an aquatic center addition to the East Portland Community Center (EPCC), which was awarded a LEED Platinum certification.

The city of Portland is known for its progressive approach to sustainability. In 2008, it was named the top green city in the United States by SustainLane ( for its strict land-use policies, urban growth boundary, and sustainable development. And its 2001 Green Building Policy mandates that city-owned buildings follow the USGBC’s LEED rating system (with a 2005 revision mandating LEED Gold compliance), which covers not just the building envelope, but overall energy use, stormwater management, and water conservation—three issues that are integral to an aquatics center. SERA’s design adds a 22,000-square-foot aquatics facility to the existing 32,000-square-foot community center. The original structure, designed by TVA Architects, was completed in 1998, prior to the creation of the city’s sustainability guidelines. According to Kurt Schultz, who was the principal in charge for TVA during the project and now is an architect at SERA, it was one of TVA’s first community centers for Portland Parks & Recreation, and while the department wanted a swimming pool at the time, there just wasn’t enough money in the budget.

The barnlike new expansion tucks a leisure pool (complete with a brightly colored water slide and play features), a spa, and a four-lane, 25-yard lap pool under its pitched roof. “The facility serves a wide variety of people during the day, from young toddlers to older folks,” says Doug Brenner, Portland’s east services manager and former head of the Portland Parks & Recreation’s aquatics program.

The EPCC addition also includes revamped locker rooms and event spaces for the public, as well as some hefty mechanical spaces that house a cutting-edge pool filtration system. Traditionally, pool water has to be drained and filtered once or twice per week; a typical system uses 7,500 gallons each time this is done. Not only does this water have to be discharged into the sewers, the new water going into the pool to replace the drained water has to be chemically treated and heated up to temperature—a big problem if you are trying to conserve water and energy. The SERA team installed a Defender automatic regenerative media filter, which uses only 300 gallons of water once per week. “The filter proved the biggest challenge,” says SERA project manager Lisa Petterson. “The idea first came about because of the city’s infrastructure, which has combined sewers (sanitary and storm). We didn’t want to overwhelm the old pipes, [and] we found that this system could save an estimated 1.2 million gallons of potable water each year.”

“You’d notice the light, but you’d never know about the filters,” notes Brenner, referring to the daylight that pours into the natatorium. With the knowledge that maximum daylight is the first step to reducing lighting loads, the SERA team made sure to take advantage of the building’s east-west orientation. Floor-to-ceiling windows on the north and south façades open up the facility to views of the outside, while north- and south-facing clerestory windows bring in light over the surfaces of the pools. The architects worked with experts at University of Oregon’s Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory to study the effect and impact of natural light. Using a scaled physical model, they were able to determine the size of the windows that would be just the right size to light the room. When needed, the team used energy-efficient light fixtures such as high-efficiency T8 and metal halide lamps, which are controlled by zone. Because it is difficult to change luminaires over the pool, they chose fixtures with the longest lamp life possible.

The facility is estimated to be nearly 75 percent more efficient than ASHRAE standards for a natatorium, and one of the biggest contributions to the EPCC’s energy savings is 5,500 square feet of solar panels. The building’s south-facing roof’s 21 percent slope is perfect for producing optimal amounts of solar energy; the team developed the array with Portland’s Commercial Solar Ventures. According to the architects, the 87-kW photovoltaic grid offsets 17 percent of the natatorium’s energy cost demand. Additionally, a solar thermal array provides hot water for the showers, and a heat exchanger extracts heat from the exhaust air coming out of the facility’s mechanical system and repurposes it to heat the pool water.

It also was important to the SERA team that the general public has an awareness of the building’s environmental success in rethinking how pool facilities perform. They’ve included a kiosk in the center’s lobby where members of the community can go online and see how much energy the center is producing. “It’s all part of an educational process,” explains Brenner. “We want the public to see that this is an environmentally friendly facility. Portland parks have always been a leader in sustainability, now we’re leading as aquatic industry gets up to speed.”

Mimi Zeiger writes about architecture and design from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Green Team

Architect, interior designer, lighting designer: SERA Architects,

Civil engineer: Roberts Consulting & Engineering,

Client/owner: City of Portland, Bureau of Parks & Recreation,

Construction manager/general contractor: Lease Crutcher Lewis,

Geotechnical engineer: GeoCon,; Professional Service Industries,

Landscape architect: Mayer Reed

LEED consultant: Brightworks,

Mechanical engineer, electrical engineer: Interface Engineering,

Pool subcontractor: The Pool Co.,

Solar provider: Commercial Solar Ventures,

Structural engineer: ABHT,

Materials and Sources

Acoustical system: Performance Contracting Group,

Adhesives, coatings, and sealants: Tnemec,

Appliances: GE,

Building management: DDC United,

Carpet: Interface,

Ceilings: Armstrong

Cladding: Skyline Sheet Metal,

Flooring: Expanko,

Glass: Northwestern Industries,

HVAC: Oregon Cascade Plumbing & Heating,; Des Champs,; Carrier Corp.,

Insulation: Performance Contracting; Firestone Building Products

Lighting control systems: Cooper Controls,; WattStopper,

Lighting: Elliptar Lighting,; Lithonia Lighting,; Kim Lighting,

Locker room and restroom furnishings: Bobrick,; ComTec and Tufftec,

Masonry, concrete, and stone: Davidson’s Masonry,; Mutual Materials,; LevelOne Concrete Construction,; Knife River Corp.,

Metal: Insta-Fab

Millwork: Burgener’s Woodworking,

Paints and finishes: Reichle Painting; Miller Paint Co.,

Photovoltaics: EC Co.,; Sanyo,

Plumbing and water systems: Oregon Cascade Plumbing & Heating,; Kohler Co.,; Sloan,; Acorn Engineering,

Pool equipment: Neptune-Benson,; Paco,; Engineered Treatment Systems,; Strantrol/Siemens,; Pulsar,; Grate Technologies

Pool tile: Daltile

Renewable energy systems (excluding photovoltaics): Gen-Con,; Heliodyne,

Roofing: Buckaroo Thermoseal,; Firestone Building Products; Skyline Sheet Metal,; AEP Span,

Signage: Architectural Metal Crafters,

Site and landscape products: NW Wetland Restoration

Structural systems: North Star Industries,

Windows and storefront system: Columbia Contract Glazing,

Doors: Chown Hardware,