There is no vehicle parking at the Bullitt Center. Instead, the center offers only bicycle parking on the ground floor of the building, a decision that likely would not even be possible in a city other than Seattle.
The lack of motor vehicle parking at the building that is looking to set a new standard for sustainability reveals much about just how ambitious the Bullitt Center project truly is, aiming not only to change sustainability in an urban setting, but overhauling it almost entirely.
The building being touted as the most sustainable in the world is being constructed blocks from Seattle University.
Conceived and financed primarily by the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental organization based in Seattle, the six-story, 50,000 square-foot building will occupy the corner of 15th Ave. between Pike Street and Madison Street when construction is completed at the end of November. Engineers aim to create a building that has net zero energy usage, with all energy harnessed through solar panels on the roof, as well as net-zero water usage, with on-site treatment of graywater and rainwater harvesting.
“This is the next generation of green buildings, and it’s really pushing the envelope,” said Chris Rogers, a partner with Point32, Bullitt’s development partner. “Our goal here is to create a model project that others can follow.”
Setting a new sustainability standard came at a cost of $30 million, an investment that the developers believe will pay for itself over the course of the building’s estimated 250-year life span, a dramatic increase over the 40-year life span of buildings constructed today.
“It comes down to economics,” said Philip Thompson, chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Seattle U and a development consultant for water treatment at the center. “Once people recognize that these [environmentally responsible] choices will eventually pay for themselves, it makes it so in the future people won’t face the same types of costs. [Projects like this] are making it about a different type of green.”
The building was designed to operate just as any comparable size office building, with tenants leasing space on all six floors. The Bullitt Foundation itself will occupy half of one floor and the University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab will occupy another, among other commercial tenants.
Though Thompson believes that, in the future, the new standards being set by the Bullitt Center will be the norm, he also notes the importance of retrofitting buildings to make them more efficient, something the Living Building challenge also takes into consideration.
In many ways, construction of the building has far outpaced any other standards and has itself been a catalyst for change in policy. One of the Living Building challenge requirements stipulates that none of the materials used can contain ingredients deemed to be hazardous by the organization. According to Crosscut.com, when the Foundation tried to source materials from local manufacturer Prosoco, but it was found to contain possible contagions, the manufacturer changed the product itself so that it no longer contained the toxin phthalates, making it more environmentally friendly.
Additionally, city codes and regulations had to be changed, notably in water collection techniques and floor height, meaning the City Council had to change zoning regulations specifically for the center.
“We bumped into certain codes and policies at the city, state, and now the federal level, but are figuring out how to work around those, working cooperatively with agencies to assess codes that are currently barriers to sustainability,” Rogers said.
Rogers also notes that there will be an “ongoing engagement with the faculty and students at Seattle University” and that it was an urban design study conducted by Seattle U students that analyzed and identified the spot the building now currently occupies.
The development team is also working with the engineering department to study the building’s performance once operational, an important task considering Living Building status is not granted until one year after becoming fully operational. This could prove problematic as systems such as water purification and energy performance are in many ways still regulated by the city and must meet codes not designed with such advanced systems in mind.
“It would be naïve to think that they’ll be able to open the building and there won’t be any adjustments that need to happen,” Thompson said. “They’ve designed things well enough that they’ve thought about the potential problems.”