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The Seattle Sun is Going to Power This Office Building

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Capturing rains to flush the toilets? Makes sense here in Seattle. But relying on sunlight to power and light the offices in the new Bullitt Center that's going up on Capitol Hill? We know it's supposed to be the greenest building in the word, but we scratched our heads a bit.

So we talked to the guy who's the expert on the use of light for the project: Robert B. Peña, an associate professor at the University of Washington's Integrated Design Lab, which was involved in conceptualizing the building.

He explains that it was one of the main challenges in designing the project. The goal, he said, was to design a building where there is a window within 30 feet of all working areas so workers could rely on natural light.

Initial ideas envisioned essentially punching a hole in the middle of the building to let light in through an atrium, but that would have reduced the amount of office space available. So, while there's still a skylight, designers made the building skinnier so that desks wouldn't be far from a window. They made the windows run from floor the ceiling to let in enough light to get close to the 30-foot standard. We might not have the intense light of a sun worshipper's dream, but "even a uniformly overcast sky is still a bright sky," he said.

The project will also use light panels to capture energy. Sure, in the dark gray months like those coming up, project designers estimate the building will use more electricity from the city's power grid than it produces. But between the Equinox and September, when there is sun, the building will actually capture more light than it uses.

There's certain poetry about how this will work. The building is will be part of the grid and during those sunnier days, it will add power into the system when the city's hydroelectric dams are producing less power. It will be drawing power during the rainy season when the dams are producing more power. All in all, he said, the building is supposed to actually add more power than it uses.

Kery Murakami

· With a few more months to go, take a look at Capitol Hill's ultra-green Bullitt Center [CHS]