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Take a Tour of the World's Most Sustainable Office Building - Seattle's Bullitt Center

If you have ever driven up East Madison Street past Pike Street, then you have passed by the world's most green building – most likely without even knowing it. The Bullitt Center, a six-story, 52K square-foot office building designed to last for 250 years, opened on Earth Day just over a year ago. Created as part of the Living Building Challenge under the guidance of Denis Hayes, the president of the Bullitt Foundation, the building's main purpose is to create a sustainable yet economically viable model for an office building.

Located between Capitol Hill and the Central District, the site of the Bullitt Center was strategically chosen for its "high visibility and accessibility" in a predominantly residential neighborhood seeking commercial development. Adjacent to downtown, the Bullitt Center is near many transportation options, with more than 20 bus routes, a street-car line, and a soon-to-be-completed Light Rail station all within half a mile. It also has the highest possible walk score of 100/100.

In 2010, the City of Seattle put into place the Living Building Challenge Pilot Program, which waives all applicable zoning restrictions in an area if designers can meet at least 60% of the criteria to be considered a Living Building. The Bullitt Foundation jumped at this challenge, constructing the first building to be completed under this ordinance. To be a certified Living Building, a process much more stringent than LEED certification, a building must meet 20 strict criteria - including being entirely self-sufficient (net-zero) for water and energy over a period of one year. The Bullitt Center still has two more criteria to meet before it will earn its certification.

The physical design of the Bullitt Center is done in such a way as to maximize upon natural energy resources and encourage environmentally-friendly practices. There is intentionally no parking on site, with a large bike garage instead and showers on each floor to encourage more tenants to bike to work. Elevators in the building require key card access and are purposely out of view to discourage use. Instead, a beautiful stairway, which Dennis Hayes calls the "irresistible stairway," is the most prominent feature for transport in the building with views of downtown. To allow for optimal natural light, the building was designed to be narrower with smaller distances between the core and the perimeter with high ceilings and 10-foot windows.

In order to be energy and carbon neutral, the Bullitt Center employs innovative and novel practices for water, electricity and heating. With 14,000 square feet of rooftop solar panels producing more than 230,000-kilowatt hours of energy annually, the Bullitt Center currently produces more energy than it actually uses. The zoning of the site ensures that rooftop solar panels will have optimal exposure to sunlight because of a restriction on taller, shadow-casting buildings being built to the south.

For heating, the Bullitt Center employs a heat pump system that takes solar heat amassed in the ground from hot summer days and transfers it back into the building during the winter. It is also the first building in the U.S. to have triple-pane windows, which provides better insulation and energy efficiency. The building management system's calendar knows what angle the sun is at and tilts the blinds on every window accordingly to keep the building from getting too hot. The blinds are also located on the outside of the glass to prevent the heat from entering.

For water, the Bullitt Center is entirely self-sufficient. Holes on the roof of the building allow for rainwater to be collected, which is then reused for the building's needs. The large water tank in the basement can hold up to 56,000 gallons of water, even though only 500 gallons is needed for daily consumption. The building also has the world's only six-story composting toilets system, which transforms human waste into fertilizer.

The Living Building Challenge requires that all materials used in the construction process be sourced locally, that is, from within a 500-mile radius. Additionally, there is a 'Red List' of forbidden materials that cannot be used. As a result, certain products, such as the triple-pane windows, were created specifically for the Bullitt Center. The wood used in the building is local Douglas Fir certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Interestingly, the Bullitt Center is one of the first mid-rise buildings in Seattle since the 1920s that is predominantly made of timber.

The Bullitt Center aspires to transform discussion about sustainability in the built environment into action. While it is currently the greenest commercial building that exists today, the ultimate hope is that other developers will take note and be inspired to construct their own energy efficient buildings. Seattle already has two other Living Building projects under way, including a 120K square-foot building in Fremont developed by Skanska. In the meantime, if you are in need of a new office space, the Bullitt Center has an entire floor available for lease!

Tours of the Bullitt Center are available every Tuesday and Wednesday at 4 pm and Saturdays at noon.
Written by Alyssa Campbell
· The Bullitt Center [BC]
· Living Building Challenge [ILBI]
· Seattle Now Home To World's Greenest Office Building [CS]
· Take A Tour Of Brooks Sports's Soon-To-Be Stone34 Home [CS]