New in my Neighborhood: “The Greenest Commercial Building in the World.”

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The Bullitt Center, a project of the Bullitt Foundation, will soon be open in the Capitol Hill Neighborhood of Seattle, just east of downtown. You can check it out at the Grand Opening on Earth Day, April 22, 12pm-5pm.

It’s not every day the “The Greenest Commercial Building in the World” opens along ones walk to Trader Joe’s, but I’m sure I’ll take it for granted soon enough as I balance my bags of gnocchi and hummus, like when my walk to the grocery store included the Pantheon when I studied abroad. But for now, it’s all very exciting. A few weeks ago I was able to go on an industry tour, where we saw all of the geeky green features, like the leachate storage tanks for the composting toilets.

There’s no need for me to go into a lot of detail about the sustainable design and the Living Building Challenge, since all the information is widely available. I’ll just share a few anecdotes that stuck out to me and some photos below.

The Living Building is much more straight forward than LEED, in that there are clear but very difficult do-or-die imperatives, like the building must create all the energy it uses. Denis Hayes, the President of the Bullitt Foundation and founder of Earth Day, hopes that building to the Living Building Challenge (emphasis on the challenge) will become less difficult in the same way LEED has in becoming more mainstream. One of the most difficult aspects was dealing with the LBC’s list of banned materials. The MEP contractor was challenged to find electrical wiring without PVC coating (the hemp alternative can cost up to ten times more), and solder for the mechanical systems that did not contain lead.

Hayes hopes the building can serve as an example and a catalyst that can be repeated, and hopes to share some of the information from the material specifications for future LBC hopefuls.

A New York Times Article from 2011, “The Self Sufficient Office Building” by Bryn Nelson, shares my favorite anecdote about the materials challenge, and how the construction process is spurring more sustainable practices in manufacturing:

“[Developer] Point32’s team persuaded Building Envelope Innovations, of Clackamas, Ore., to reformulate its Wet-Flash sealant, a liquid spray that creates watertight and airtight barriers, to exclude phthalates, compounds that mimic some human hormones and have been linked to disruptions in the endocrine system.”

The most fascinating aspect to me is the water and waste system-or rather, how out of whack our conventional handling of waste is, in that we use potable water, not soil, as its conduit. See the “Intact” and “Broken” charts for the Human Nutrient Cycle in the Humanure Handbook, pages 10-11. The LBC requires net zero water and stormwater handling onsite, and no chlorine at the tap, which is still being worked out with the City of Seattle.

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So far, so good: The composting toilets, benign to the close observer

Bullitt Center exterior sun shades

Exterior sun shades for blocking heat gain before it enters the building. The large operable windows allow natural light to penetrate deep into the floor plate. The sun shades and the windows are both automatic, adjusting to the light and the temperature.

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The enticing stairs: typically closed off and out of the way, here the fire stairs are open and welcoming, in order to entice tenants away from the elevator. Since the building must produce more energy than it uses, every watt counts.

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The dense urban neighborhood of Capitol Hill allows decreased parking requirements (as in, one accessible space/loading zone). The south facade looks over my neighborhood (the charming flat white roof of my building can be seen from the 6th floor), recently dubbed “SOMAD”(South of Madison Street) by Seattle Magazine.