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On Bullitt Center’s first Earth Day birthday, greenest office building on Capitol Hill (and beyond) has more to prove

(Images: Suzi Pratt for CHS)

(Images: Suzi Pratt for CHS)

Powered by the sun -- complete with outdoor ping pong table

Powered by the sun — complete with outdoor ping pong table

It’s hard to believe that Capitol Hill’s Bullitt Center, considered the greenest commercial building in the world, has anything left to prove on sustainability. But a year after the building’s Earth Day opening, the Bullitt Foundation is setting its sights on perhaps the most rigorous green certification in the world.

The International Living Building Institute awards the Living Building certificate to structures that essentially operate as living organisms — one that is sufficient for water and energy and actively promotes the health of its occupants and surrounding environment.

“It just provides a framework for sustainability in the building and shows the world what we’re trying to achieve,” said Bullitt’s Brad Kahn.

The solar-powered, rainwater-capturing Bullitt Center has certainly pushed the boundaries on engineering environmental sustainability, but sustaining tenants is proving to be a bit trickier. The reason the $18.5 million building hasn’t received the Living Building designation yet is because occupancy during its first year has remained below 85% (an important target as the environmental impact of an unoccupied building would be fairly minimal).

20140421-AM2A317231 20140421-AM2A312924The six-story office structure is currently 83% occupied as its third floor space remains empty. Construction company Hammer & Hand were the most recent tenants to move in. Kahn said he expects the Bullitt will fill the empty space soon as the demand to live and work on Capitol Hill continues to rise.

“There’s a need for office space in the Capitol Hill neighborhood,” Kahn said. “There’s a ton of new housing going in, and there’s a lot of people who want to live there. But if they have to commute to Redmond, or even South Lake Union, it’s not as good as if they can just walk there.”

On Tuesday, the Bullitt Center will celebrate Earth Day and its one year anniversary with free building tours and the unveiling of The Big Thing project, a crowdsourced mosaic created by using 10,000 environment-inspired photos. And in the spirit of giving back to its neighborhood environment, Bullitt will be switching on a free public WiFi signal for those at nearby McGilvra Place Park.

The Big Thing project -- more at

The Big Thing project — more at

The Big Thing is coming on Earth Day!
Unveiling of the crowd-sourced Puget Sound animal at the Bullitt Center on April 22

SEATTLE: On Earth Day, April 22, 2014, “The Big Thing” will be revealed at the Bullitt Center, the greenest commercial building in the world. In honor of protecting the planet and as part of Puget Sound Starts Here, local groups and agencies are participating in The Big Thing and, in addition, the Bullitt Center is offering free tours for the public.

The Big Thing is a crowd source project in which thousands of photos are being montaged virtually to build photo mosaic of an iconic Puget Sound animal. Local environmental and sustainability organizations and agencies are participating in this innovative new project.

Event details:

WHAT: Earth Day event: Unveiling and brief comments about The Big Thing
Tours of the Bullitt Center (11 am, 1 and 4 pm)

WHO: Big Thing organizers and Denis Hayes (coordinator of the 1st Earth Day and president of the Bullitt Foundation)
will have brief remarks.

DATE/TIME: Tuesday, April 22 at 10:30 am

WHERE: 1501 East Madison Street, Seattle

The end of Bullitt’s inaugural year also means the foundation will have gathered important overall performance data for the building. Kahn said the last 12 months have exceeded performance goals in terms of energy use and production (Bullitt sells surplus energy from its solar panels back to Seattle City Light).

20140421-AM2A317231“The Bullitt Center is so optimized, a lot of energy comes down to what comes out of the outlets,” Kahn said.

According to a Tuesday press release, Bullitt used 75% less energy than a new Seattle building over the past year, translating to 147,260 kWh of electricity usage compared to a baseline of 593,891 kWh for a similar building built to code

Bullitt lease agreements include energy and water budgets for tenants, which are pro-rated for the amount of square footage they rent. Tenants that meet their budgets are given cash rebates at the end of the year.

On Monday, the Bullitt center came under new management as the Seattle-based property management firm Unico Properties took over day-to-day operations.

“It’s the perfect marriage of the greenest building in the world with Seattle’s greenest property managers,” said Unico’s director of sustainability Brett Phillips.

As Bullitt moves into year two, both Kahn and Phillips said exporting the building’s living proof message of hyper-sustainability will be crucial to convincing other developers that similar projects are worth the investment.

“Bullitt showed folks it can be built, we need to show folks it can be managed,” said Phillips. “If that happens, we can show more and more property owners that this can happen.”

Earth Day Parklet
EW-Earth-Day-2012-2-400x351The return of the annual celebration of the environment and sustainability means the return of the Environmental Works Earth Day Parklet:

Join us for environmental WORKS’ annual Earth Day Parklet celebrating our 44 years of service through community design. For one day, we will convert our parking to a parklet, with help from our friends at Barker Landscape Architects, Swansons Nursery, and Parfait Ice Cream.

The parklet is open 11a to 5p on Earth Day at 402 15th Ave E.

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7 thoughts on “On Bullitt Center’s first Earth Day birthday, greenest office building on Capitol Hill (and beyond) has more to prove

  1. I wish I could have better feelings about the Bullit center but just can’t summons them as I walk by the shaded windows and cold as ice exterior.
    Vacating an albeit dangerous street and appropriating a public park as part of the “campus” doesn’t help said feelings (I wonder whether we pay for the upkeep). Just another green colored power grab in my opinion.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Cold store fronts lacks any type of life and the shadow of that oversized roof. Should never been aproved

    • What do you mean by saying the Bullit Center has “appropriated” the park? Do they now own the park space? If so, that’s not a bad thing, as they will most likely take better care of it than the City would. And isn’t it still open to the public?

  2. Sustainability is more than how much power and energy it saves, it’s also about the connection with its environment, which this building does not have. It’s cold and overwhelming, and not in a good way. It blocks sunlight and there’s something to be said about the amount of volume this building takes up vs. the number of people/occupancy.

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