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Climate ChangeEnergySustainable Development

The Future of Green Building is in Seattle

I have seen the future of buildings. And it is awesome.

Today, Earth Day 2013, The Bullitt Center – the “greenest,” most sustainable commercial building in the world – officially opened.  I’ve been fortunate to live right down the street and have been able to watch the building take shape over the past year. There was a big celebration today, with visits and speeches from Governor Jay Inslee (who rides around in a Honda Civic hybrid) as well as Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. Earth Day was an appropriate holiday for unveiling of the Bullitt Center, not only because of the environmental significance, but also because the Bullitt Foundation’s president Denis Hayes was the national coordinator of the first Earth Day in 1970.

A little background on the building: The Bullitt Foundation, a local sustainable development focused organization, wanted to produce a commercially viable building that met the ambitious Living Building Challenge requirements. Essentially they wanted to make a building that was the most environmentally sustainable possible given current technology. In doing so, they sought to demonstrate to the world the viability of creating such a building not just because they could, but in the hopes that it will shift how buildings are built moving forward.

The building’s most iconic feature is the roof made almost entirely of PV solar panels, which are projected to generate more electricity each year than the building will consume.

Less visible is the rainwater harvesting, storage, and filtration system which supplies all of the water for the entire building. In the basement is a 56,000 gallon cistern and a complex filtration system. Greywater is filtered using an artificial wetland on a 2nd floor balcony before being returned to the local ecosystem.

The guts of the Bullitt Center – water reuse systems!

The computer controlled heating and cooling system relies on only geothermal and passive solar sources. 26 400′ geothermal wells feed a series of heat exchangers and heat pumps. Each exterior window has these awesome automatic blinds that raise and lower depending on the position of the sun and cloud cover. The louvers actually automatically tilt so that light can get into workspaces without blinding the occupants!

Schematic of the energy and heat systems

What is also crazy is that the building does not contain any hazardous materials (e.g. lead, cadmium, mercury, etc). Given the huge number of components that go into a building, the project designers had to be very careful about materials they chose, but in some cases convinced a product manufacturer to change their design to remove prohibited materials.

Further, the LBC has very strict rules on the distance that source materials can come from. The super-advanced automatic windows are made by a German company which posed a problem to the designers. In order for them to meet the challenge, they persuaded the German window company to license their technology to a manufacturer in Everett, Washington.

An interactive building monitor. This gave real-time info on all of the building’s energy, air quality, and water systems.

And it is located in a pedestrian, bike, and transit friendly area of Seattle. In fact, the building doesn’t have any onsite parking for automobiles, only a huge, indoor bike parking room.

After nearly 4 years of development, the building is finished and tenants have moved in (80% occupancy right now). If you live or are planning a visit to Seattle, I highly recommend a tour of the building.

For more info, check out this NY Times article.

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S. Neil Larsen

Neil is a freelance environmental consultant based in Seattle.

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