Capitol Hill’s Bullitt Center becomes world’s first ‘living’ office building

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(Image: CHS)

One day, thinking robots will deeply challenge our notion of what constitutes a living thing. Thinking buildings that completely sustain themselves may do the same and E Madison’s Bullitt Center is evidently leading the way.

Billed as the greenest commercial building in the world, the Bullitt Center was recently awarded the Living Building Certification. It’s the first office building to get the designation, considered the most rigorous sustainability certification in the world. CHS wrote about the Bullitt’s nomination last year. We were also there when it opened to much applause and greater expectations in April 2013.

The Living Building certification is awarded to buildings that essentially operate as living organisms — one that is self-sufficent for water and energy and actively promotes the health of its occupants and surrounding environment.

Solar panels atop the 15th and Madison building produce an excess amount of energy sold back to Seattle City Light, human waste is composted, graywater is treated onsite, and the estimated 1,000 different building materials and products used to build the center are devoid of hundreds of typical toxic chemicals.

Running it all is the building’s “brain,” which automatically adjusts systems to optimize for the for the time of day, time of year, the number of people in the building, CO2 levels, and weather.

“We think of this building as a living thing,” said Bullitt spokesperson Brad Kahn.

The final frontier will be untethering from the city grid entirely. That hinges on advances in battery technology that could be just a few years away, according to Kahn.

Due to city and state regulations, the Bullitt Center also remains hooked into the municipal water system. Its fully functional rainwater capture system will eventually provide water for the entire building. In order to gain the Living Building certification, the Bullitt Foundation had to show the system captured enough safe drinking water for an entire year.Flagged - 2

Only eight projects in the world have obtained the Living certification, and three are now located on Capitol Hill: the Bullitt Center, the Bertschi School Science Wing, and McGilvra Place park. It might not seem like much until you take a look at what’s happening outside the neighborhood.

Recent high profile reports of water shortages plaguing California and the southwest can seem far from Capitol Hill, but issues of water scarcity are coming here one way or another. The arrival of climate refugees or pumping our water south would create huge strains on the region’s water supply.

With efforts like the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, Kahn said Capitol Hill could fast become the lodestar for net-zero water usage at a large-scale level.

“Capitol Hill has really staked out a leadership position” he said. “I think Capitol Hill is the perfect area to explore… district scale water capture and treatment.”

Now if we could just do something about the rent

After the Bullitt received its designation, the International Living Future Institute, which gives the award, called the center one of the most important buildings in the world.

“If Living Buildings can be built and operated in Seattle, the cloudiest major city in the contiguous 48 states, they can and should be built everywhere,” Bullitt Center CEO Denis Hayes said in a statement.

At the time the Bullitt Center was seeking the Living Building designation, the center was just under 85% occupied — an important target as the environmental impact of an unoccupied building would be fairly minimal. Today it is 90% leased.

The designation comes at the end of the building’s second year in operation. The center opened on Earth Day 2013.

You can learn more at bullittcenter.org.

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