Seattle Architects Design First U.S. Office Building Without A Carbon Footprint, Break The Law While Doing So
January 22, 2013
When the Bullitt Center opens in Seattle in April, this all-renewables net-zero powerhouse designed by Miller Hull will be able to sustain itself rain and shine. With solar arrays, aggressive rainwater collection, and composting toilets, the new headquarters for the Bullitt Foundation—which supports sustainable development in the Pacific Northwest—will be on track to meet the Living Building Challenge. As the most stringent green standard around, the challenge requires 100 percent in everything that counts: namely, 100 percent of energy needs met with on-site renewables, 100 percent of water supplied by on-site rainwater collection, and on-site waste management. But if the architects succeed, they may run afoul of the law. Read more!
Miller Hull designed the Bullitt Center’s structure for a 250-year life span, using concrete, steel, and FSC-certified heavy timber.
“If you really want to build a green building today in any city in the United States, you’ll find yourself in violation of maybe two dozen regulations and laws,” Bullitt Foundation president Denis Hayes quips in a video about the building. In Washington, it’s illegal to take what is arguably Seattle’s most abundant renewable resource—rain—and filter it for drinking. The Bullitt Center will use its treated rainwater for graywater until that law changes, at which point the building’s cistern would begin pumping collected rainwater through a green roof and into an ultraviolet filtration system for disinfecting, then finally to sinks, water fountains, and about a hundred Klean Kanteens.
In addition to serving as the foundation’s headquarters, the Bullitt Center will lease space to other green initiatives, including the University of Washington Integrated Design Lab and the International Living Future Institute, which administers the Living Building Challenge.
To power a six-story, 52,000-square-foot project with only rooftop PVs, the architects had to bring the building’s energy needs down to what the solar arrays can produce: about 230,000 kilowatt-hours per year. They maximized the glazing on the north and south sides to capture the most light and boosted performance with mechanized features like automated retractable blinds to block glare and heat gain, as well as windows that automatically open and close to optimize natural ventilation. But the building will rely on occupants to watch their behavior, too. Tenants will have an energy budget and keep track of plug loads and other metrics through a central dashboard that will be accessible online. In one clever power-saving move, the architects added an “irresistible staircase”—an outside firestair that doubles as a vertical promenade with the building’s best views—to give those chronic single-floor elevator riders a reason to hoof it instead.
“Our whole purpose is to be an instrument of change, ” Hayes adds, “and to use this building not just to influence developers and architects, but also the bankers who finance all of these things, the city governments that set up the codes that make living buildings illegal almost every place in the world—all of the people who are involved in making these kinds of decisions.”
All images courtesy of Miller Hull