The Bullitt Center in Seattle, WA opened its doors to the general public this week.
The six-story, 50,000 square foot building—being touted as the greenest in the world—is designed to be completely self-sustaining in energy and water. It’s also free from toxic materials like PVC, cadmium, lead, mercury, and formaldehyde.
It’s hoped that the 30 million dollar Bullitt Center, which was built as part of the Living Building Challenge and is 83 percent more efficient than the city’s typical commercial site, will change the way buildings are designed and operated in the future.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Bullitt Center is the way it uses water. Rainwater collected on the roof is stored in an underground cistern and used throughout the building, while dirty water from sinks is filtered through a green roof.
After use, flushless toilets create foam with just two teaspoons of water to clean the bowl and sewage is treated and composted. Rainwater-fed showers can be found on each floor.
The oversized roof of the Bullitt Center—jutting out over the pavement below— is a noticeable feature. The roof houses 14,303 square feet of photovoltaic panels expected to generate 240,000 kilowatt hours per year, even in grey and rainy Seattle.
All the electricity generated by the building will be fed directly into the electrical grid and sold to Seattle City Light. The building will purchase energy back as needed.
Other green tech includes the Bullitt Center’s huge floor-to-ceiling 700-pound windows that open when the weather station across the street signals conditions are optimal.
“The building has a brain and a nervous system,” says Bullitt Foundation CEO Denis Hayes, who strongly believes that natural light creates happier more productive workers.
Hayes was responsible for creating the first global Earth Day in 1990, and the opening of the Bullitt Center, of course, coincided with this year’s Earth Day.
Indeed the entire building is designed with the health of its occupants in mind.
Whereas in traditional office buildings we expect to find the elevator near the main entrance, the Bullitt Center’s elevators are hidden toward the rear of the building. Instead, a large staircase greets you as you enter, inviting you to walk rather than ride.
The glass-enclosed timber staircase—one of Hayes’ favorite architectural features—also has towering windows at each floor where climbers can enjoy panoramic views of downtown Seattle and Puget Sound.
The heavy timber used throughout the Bullitt Center might seem counterintuitive to its “green” aspirations. Seattle hasn’t constructed heavy timber buildings since the 1920s because old-growth trees with a large circumference are required to support the weight of upper floors. But the columns in the Bullitt Center are made by gluing together smaller beams to form thick, strong columns.
And it’s not just the building itself that’s green.
In large cities like Seattle, an abundance of concrete makes it impossible for water to penetrate the ground, resulting in polluted runoff. To help counter this, pavements outside the Bullitt Center have been made pervious and the landscaping especially created to “green” storm water wherever possible.
The Bullitt Center is already accepting tenants, and the cost of renting office space inside its walls is about the same as other premium locations in Seattle. But the building is missing some key amenities.
The center has a small lot for bicycles but no parking garage, which could potentially cause a big problem for workers who’ll be forced to park off-site or use the not-so-great city transit.
It remains to be seen how successful the Bullitt Center will be over time. In the short-term, the building could help to drive more investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy and other green building technologies in the Northwest. In the long-term, Hayes hopes his new building will become the gold standard across the United States.
“We’ve gotten to the point where incrementalism is no longer doing the trick, we’ve got to make giant leaps into a new way of doing things,” Hayes concludes.