Recently, architectural technologist Robin Lee flew off to Seattle, WA to tour the Bullitt Center. Billed as the “World’s Greenest Building”, this five story commercial building is the first large building in an urban centre to meet the requirements of the Living Building Challenge. The building features a large solar PV array, which powers a geothermal heating system and provides electricity for all tenants in the building. An interesting note is that photovoltaic solar system still works on cloudy days – imagine what it could do in sunny Alberta!
All water for the building is collected from rainwater, and has a cistern large enough to withstand a 40 day period of no rain. Grey water is processed through gardens on balconies and at ground level, while black water is processed in large linked composter. Large windows ensure minimal energy is wasted on lighting, and all wood is sustainably harvested. One of the hardest requirements of the living building challenge is the restriction of certain materials within the building. While it is easy to ensure lead and mercury is not in your building, items free of PVC are harder to find.
Hard costs of the building were approximately 18% higher than that of standard construction – not bad considering the building does not require additional heat, water or sewer, and produces as much electricity as it uses. “The construction isn’t overly complicated. The technology is here, and all we require is the will to use it”, says Robin, who also noted it wasn’t far from a project he worked on in Calgary in 2006.
The hardest part for Robin was getting through customs, as the US border guard was in disbelief that someone would fly to the United States for just one day with the sole intention of seeing a building. Robin spent a good few minutes explaining how cool the building was. His exuberance eventually convinced the guard that maybe it really was something someone could be interested in.
Image 1 – Exterior view of building
Image 2 – Geothermal system
Image 3 – Water storage tanks
Image 4 – Linked composters
Image 5 – FSC solid wood floor and glue lam beams
Image 6 – Solar array overhang
Image 7 – Grey water septic