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Bullitt Foundation Sets New Efficiency Standard

While its official opening is nearly three months away, the Bullitt Center is already being dubbed the greenest commercial building in the world, and the University of Washington’s Integrated Design Laboratory is getting in on the ground floor, literally.

Currently located just west of campus on Northeast Northlake Way, the lab is preparing to move into the first floor of the Bullitt Foundation’s new headquarters at 1501 East Madison Street between downtown and Capitol Hill in late April.

The six-story, 50,000 square-foot building will be the first urban mid-rise commercial building in the United States to meet the goals of the Living Building Challenge. This certification promotes the most advanced measurements of sustainability in buildings. Designed with a lifespan of 250 years, the building includes 26 geothermal wells, deep wells that use the earth’s energy for heating and cooling, and has a 56,000-gallon cistern in the basement to capture rainwater.

The 50,000-square-foot building will generate all of its energy using solar panels, and all of its water will be provided by harvested rainwater.

There are indoor composting toilets, a system of geothermal wells for heating, and the building’s wood-framed structure is made out of Forest Stewardship Council certified wood.

sustainable buildings and climate change

“Now that fossil fuels face serious constraints, it makes sense to turn back to ecology for lessons on how to best organize our cities and industries,” Bullitt Foundation President Denis Hayes said. “We started asking what a building might look like if we viewed it as an organism with a brain, a nervous system, a respiratory system, a digestive system, etc., and that provided for its own needs without harming its neighbors.”

Steve Whitney, a program officer at the Bullitt Foundation, said the building serves as a way for the foundation to show how more buildings can be constructed with sustainable practices in mind.

“It really is a program-related investment,” Whitney said. “The building is offering us some leverage to identify where policies and practices need to be changed and to demonstrate how they can be changed to make buildings like this far more common in the future than they are today.”

While the design lab’s daylight-testing chamber has been moved to a new daylighting lab in the basement of Gould Hall, the rest of the lab’s work will move to the new building.

Rob Péna, an associate professor in the UW Department of Architecture and a building performance consultant at the lab, said the new building will allow them to expand their research, education, and outreach efforts.

“We’ll be teaching UW courses on net-zero and high performance buildings; we’ll be having a series of national forums on how to create high performance buildings, and we’ll be leading public tours everyday on the building,” Péna said.

Péna said the building will also receive a good deal of attention internationally, allowing them to promote the work they’re doing at the lab and the UW as a whole.

“We’re preparing for quite a lot of attention and with that, hopefully, comes an opportunity to showcase what we do at the UW, as well as provide opportunities for research and education for multiple disciplines across campus,” Péna said.

Heather Burpee, a research assistant professor and health design specialist at the lab, said it’s exciting not only to be part of a building that has great goals but also has the opportunity for outreach.

“I think it’s a really important building for Seattle, for the Pacific Northwest, and for the nation to see how we can do things different and in a positive way,” Burpee said.

As the first building of its scale to strive for this level of sustainability, Whitney said the Foundation was able to identify obstacles that come with green building and how to get past them. With that in mind, they’re hoping their work serves as a catalyst for further advances around the world.

“If in ten years, our building is still the greenest commercial building on the planet, we’ll be disappointed,” Whitney said.

Péna said the Design Lab will begin moving into the Bullitt Center sometime in mid-March. The official grand opening of the building is scheduled for Earth Day, April 22.

Greener Cities and climate action

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Author: Gary Chandler

Gary Chandler is a sustainability strategist, author and advocate. Follow him on Twitter @Gary_Chandler