Seattle-based Bullitt Center has incorporated an exhaustive list of sustainable architectural methods to have a projected life span of 250 exemplary years.
This building’s ambition has macro ramifications. Instead of being a lone soldier of green ideas, it wants to inspire for years and years to come. Purportedly built to last 250 years, this simple looking building in Seattle is topped by a giant, arrow-shaped cap of 575 solar panels. This is the first spectacular hint at what promise this centre holds with regards to sustainable architecture.
Its systems are so efficient that the need for non-renewable energy sources is near-zero. The Bullitt Centre is a confident demonstration of the fulfilment of the strict Living Building Challenge, which sets out the policy and value-based parameters of site, water, energy and more for buildings.
At the literal top of the Bullitt Centre’s electricity producing genius is the array of photovoltaic solar panels, which fulfil the building’s yearly demand for 2,30,000 kilowatt-hours of energy. A steel and aluminium rack gives the array its eye-catching shape, the section jutting out giving it the inspired shape of a college graduation cap. The efficiency of the energy production apparatus can be tracked in the building lobby, and even online.
Built by the Bullitt Foundation, with the help of Seattle-based architects, The Miller Hull Partnership, the centre positions itself as an educational precedent. Aside from measuring itself against the Living Building Challenge, it has cut out 362 hazardous building items mentioned in the ‘Red List’.
This inspired the use of lead-free ball valves and fixtures, instead of the commonly used brass and bronze. A 6-month research effort with manufacturers yielded phthalate-free water barriers, which set the tone for all future products to come in this line. Custom-made no-hub EPDM couplings were used to counter the inexorable production of cancerous dioxins, and to cut the use of Red-Listed Neoprene. The electrical wiring in the buildings is PVC-free, while the insulation set-up eschews formaldehyde completely, relying on a plant-based binder.
2020 Engineering helped develop the centre’s ultra-effective water management systems. The basement houses an 8ft-tall, 950 sq.ft. large cistern that can hold 56,000 gallons of harvested rainwater that flows down from gaps in the solar-panelled roof.
This water takes care of the toilet needs, and the irrigation demands. Also in place, awaiting approval for future use, is a filtration system potent enough to kill even viruses.
The basement also holds 10 large composting units which work a complicated nexus of wood chips, temperature control, and mechanised air circulation to produce 90 gallons of energy-rich compost each year. Daylight is abundant in the interiors here, with windows taking care of illumination needs by 82%. Twenty-six geothermal wells of the depth of 400 feet handle the heating and cooling needs.
This 6-storey building is the first American urban mid-rise commercial undertaking that has shown such obedience to the Living Building Challenge. Teaching and innovation is a combined and constant aim of this project. The lower floor of the building will be home to the Urban Ecology Partnership, built in collaboration with the University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab and the Cascadia Green Building Council, as a centre of green learning. It will feature an open resource library, classrooms, an exhibition space, and a research laboratory.
Apart from the ground-breaking architectural innovations that the Bullitt Centre has employed, its true impact is visible in its policy influence.
The project worked closely with local regulators and departments for not just approval of material recycling from previous establishments’ demolition, but also helped realise a Living Building Challenge-certified neighbourhood park. The centre extends its philosophies to its residents by encouraging the use of public transport, and by boldly building no on-site parking space for cars.
The influence of the Bullitt Centre does indeed have the potential to change the ideologies of commercial construction beyond state, country and continent. With newer batches of green thinkers emerging from its Urban Ecology Partnership, the spread of its philosophies will be, hopefully, swift.
Text By Shruti Nambiar
Photographs Courtesy Ben Benschneider