A Green Plume in Seattle’s Cap

Denis Bouvier | denisbouvier.com

Denis Bouvier | denisbouvier.com

Located at 1501 East Madison St. in Seattle, Washington where Capitol Hill and the Central District intersect is the greenest office building in the world. It’s the first heavy timber mid-rise building in Seattle since the 1920s, and that’s just the beginning of a long list of unique features. It opened on Earth Day, April 22, 2013.

The six-story 50,000-square-foot Bullitt Center is a project of the Bullitt Foundation which promotes innovative approaches to sustainable development in the Pacific Northwest. It utilizes the Living Building Challenge which is the most stringent and progressive building system in the world. Buildings using this system are designed for location, climate and culture and produce their own water and electricity; they are free of “red chemicals” which produce cancer, asthma and allergies. They must be architecturally beautiful as well as functional. The system challenges the building industry to design and think beyond conventional practices and make environmentally sustainable buildings not only possible, but have them serve to stimulate continued innovation in this area.

Part of getting certified with the Living Building Challenge standard requires monitoring for one year to ensure the building is self-sufficient in power and water production. Only three buildings in the United States have been fully certified so far; all much smaller than the Bullitt Center.

To meet these standards, the Bullitt Center’s water supply is rainwater collected in a 56,000-gallon cistern and then filtered and disinfected.

The roof has an array of solar panels which you can see extend beyond the building and are expected to produce 230,000 kilowatt-hours a year; energy use can be measured down to the individual socket. There are also 26 geothermal wells.

The timber and steel frame uses native Douglas fir certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The 10-foot-high windows provide every worker with access to fresh air and daylight. And all the non-toxic building materials used have stimulated green industries in the area.

A glass-enclosed stairwell with panoramic views of downtown and Puget Sound encourages its use over an elevator.

The only on-site parking is for bicycles.

The use of composting toilets is a first for commercial buildings.

A major component of the facility is being inclusive of the community and providing learning opportunities. The lower two floors give students, homeowners, policy makers, public agency staff and other green building proponents access to hands-on exploration of the latest technologies, research, building mechanical systems, and also provide classes. However, the building’s proponents feel the learning process will not be a success if it is still the most high-performing office building 10 years from now. The whole point is to see this building as a prototype to stimulate further innovation and higher performance.

This project was expensive ($30 million for the land and building), but it will be energy and carbon neutral and has been designed to last for 250 years – not typical in today’s short-term gain world we live in. Also not typical and incredibly encouraging is the cooperation between the community, architects, developers, bankers and local government to make this project happen.

Don Richardson