by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Seattle and Capitol Hill just got a big, green, sustainable feather in its collective cap. The Bullitt Center, the ambitious, environment-minded office building at 1501 East Madison Street, was recently named the 2013 Sustainable Building of the Year by the prestigious global publication World Architecture News (WAN). The award comes on the heels of the Bullitt Center’s proven performance in all goals related to materials, energy use, and water preservation, which lead the nation in sustainable building design.
The Bullitt Center officially opened its doors on Earth Day of 2013, and saw most of its permanent tenants move in by the end of the year. To date, the building is exceeding its expected performance in energy and water conservation, according to an official statement from a representative of its owners, the Bullitt Foundation. The estimates and nine-month reviews account for the building’s partial occupancy to determine net water and energy usage.
The goal of the Bullitt Center was to meet or exceed the Living Building Challenge, a set of criteria that outlines what it means to produce as much or more water and energy than a building consumes while also being carbon-neutral and using few or no chemicals on a “red list” of 362 harmful compounds. These chemicals range from toxins found in paint, carpet, insulation and even basic building materials. Lastly, the Living Building Challenge required that a development use materials gathered from local, sustainable sources. By meeting all of these requirements, the Bullitt Center attracted global attention and received recognition from organizations such as the American Institute of Architects, and the U.S. Green Building Council.
This latest nod from WAN highlights the efforts of the Bullitt Foundation and its architect, the Miller Hull Partnership. Specifically, the accolades focus on the Bullitt Center’s current uniqueness as a leasable commercial structure that meets the Living Building Challenge.
“Our panel really thought it shone through as an inspiration to future projects aiming for this level of sustainability,” said WAN awards coordinator Faye Chalmers of the publication’s decision to recognize the Bullitt Center.
Recently, the Bullitt Center launched an interactive, live-updating dashboard created by building technology firm Climatec. The dashboard breaks down the overall energy and water usage of the building in various increments, from daily calculations to annual usage reports. Users can see how much energy and water is being consumed by each of the building’s six floors, how much water is in the rain-collecting cistern, and how much energy the rooftop array of solar panels is producing.
Because the building has only been open for nine months, there is no annual report of how close it has come to its goal of net zero energy and water use, but the data to date is promising. On short but sunny days over the past month, the solar array has produced nearly as much electricity as the building has used. On the long-term scale, energy production from the panels is predictably low in the winter, then rises from January to April and hits a current peak of over 40,000 kilowatt hours in July alone. Water management is more steady thanks to a mix of recycled water within the building itself and the rain collection system capable of storing 56,000 gallons, which holds more than 30,000 gallons at this time.
There are many other metrics and projections available through the Bullitt Center dashboard on the building’s website, including daily reports of usage and production. To achieve true net zero status, the building’s production must meet or exceed usage, with any surplus energy going back into the Seattle grid.
Bullitt Foundation CEO Denis Hayes was clear since the start of the Bullitt Center project that he hopes the building will inspire other developers in Seattle and beyond to aim for similarly high sustainability standards. The City of Seattle has long had a system of Green Building ordinances and incentives, though, more recently, it established a higher tier of Living Building classifications that is still in its pilot phase. The Bullitt Center is the first structure to achieve recognition under the new classification, though the city hopes to see 11 additional buildings join it in the years to come. In the meantime, the Seattle Department of Planning and Development has the power to grant developers the exceptions necessary to install sustainability features that are not, as yet, part of the citywide building code. Until the time when more Living Buildings appear in the city, Capitol Hill still has the greenest office in the world.