The Bullitt Center and its sustainable architecture

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The Bullitt Center

The Bullitt Center. North America's most ambitious green buildings.

Believed to be the greenest commercial building in the world, the Bullitt Center sits on an otherwise unremarkable street on Capitol Hill, covered in glossy windows and crowned by an impressive array of solar panels, all in the pursuit of redefining the future of sustainable architecture. 

The Center, which opened its doors in 2013, was constructed by the Bullitt Foundation. Their mission statement is to safeguard the natural environment by promoting responsible human activities and sustainable communities in the Pacific Northwest.

“Our goals with the Center were to show that you could make a building that, on essentially every parameter, was a quantum leap forward from how a standard office building, even a class A office building, is constructed and operated today,” Denis Hayes, CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, said. 

For the Center, their building stands as a testament to what sustainable architecture can be.  

The Center boasts an arsenal of innovative features to reduce its environmental impact and better the lives of its tenants. The building itself is intended to mimic the ecosystem that would have existed on Capitol Hill before humans developed it. 

The building produces all of the energy it consumes, returns all the water it uses to the environment, and treats all waste produced by its tenants. 

The building is self-heating, using geothermal wells to heat liquid that circulates throughout the floors of the building. The building’s 575 solar panels provide the Bullitt Center with more electricity annually than it consumes, and all water used in the building comes from rain collected in a cistern in the basement. 

All of the Center’s toilets are composting, meaning they don’t require water, which dramatically reduces the building’s water consumption. The waste collected by the toilets is composted in the building’s aerobic composting units, which are also housed in the basement and are then used as fertilizer.

At its most basic level, the Bullitt Center strives to change industry standards concerning safe building practices. All materials used to build the Center meet the criteria of the Living Building Challenge, which stipulates that the building in question does not contain any Red List hazardous materials which include PVC, cadmium, lead, and mercury.

An additional aspect of the Living Building Challenge is that it encourages the use of local materials to reduce pollution due to transportation and stimulate the local economy. 

All of the Bullitt Center’s features harmonize to create a building that is not only eco-friendly but also a pleasing environment for its tenants. 

The Center relies on mostly natural light, creating a healthier workplace environment. Additionally, stairs are easily accessible and naturally lit which encourages building users to take the stairs rather than the elevator. Instead of a parking garage, a bike garage is offered to tenants, making biking to work an attractive alternative to driving. 

The design and building process behind the Center was not without its share of challenges. In order for the building to perform at the level the Bullitt Foundation wanted, it violated aspects of Seattle’s building codes.

Additionally, the Foundation had problems getting the building financed as banks were not convinced that it could turn a profit.  

“I was sort of surprised that the technical hurdles, though difficult, were much much less difficult to overcome than the financial or legal hurdles,” Hayes said. “But we did it.” 

The Bullitt Foundation sought exemptions from Seattle building codes to increase the number and size of windows to maximize natural light. The Foundation had to negotiate use of the airspace above the sidewalks bordering the building to extend the solar panels and produce the needed energy. 

The Bullitt Center has proven that it is possible for a green building to be a commercial success. The Center houses businesses as diverse as the UW Center for Integrated Design and Hammer and Hand at a competitive price. 

Having demonstrated the financial viability of their designs, the Bullitt Foundation will be transitioning the space in the Center into below-market value office spaces for other environmental organizations.

In the future, Hayes hopes more organizations, such as the UW, will follow the Bullitt Center’s example and prioritize the incorporation of green architecture into their designs. 

“There is no excuse for the University of Washington not to be building super green buildings, and yet it doesn’t,” Hayes said. 

The Bullitt Center also demonstrates the necessity that our buildings adapt to the world in which we live. 

“This is the future,” Deborah Sigler, program coordinator for the UW Center for Integrated Design, said.

Reach contributing writer Zoe Luderman Miller at Twitter @zozozaira

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