Seattle’s Bullitt Center appears in the Guardian
Green building in North America continues to surge and has prompted a certification cottage industry as professionals seek credentials from such organisations as the US Green Building Council. Retrofits of towering American symbols such as New York City’s Empire State Building, and gaudy new complexes such as City Centre in Las Vegas, have left their mark on city skylines and architects’ portfolios.
But it is the Pacific northwest that is the main home to designers, architects and designers who push the boundaries of green building. It is only natural that this region would be a leader. Portland, Oregon initiated a smart growth plan 40 years ago when the term “green building” was not even in our vocabulary, and Vancouver pushed future Olympiads to be sustainable with its hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Not to be outdone, Seattle broke ground on an ambitious green building, which, if successful, will set new standards for sustainable construction.
Six storeys tall with 52,000 square feet (4,830 square meters) of office space, the Bullitt Center, the construction of which began on 29 August, promises to be a carbon-neutral energy and net-zero water building. And that is only the start, as the Bullitt Center and its architects, The Miller Hull Partnership, reach far and beyond the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification process that has become the standard in the United States. In fact, according to Brian Court of Miller Hull, the firm will not even pursue LEED certification.
In an interview, Court explained that securing finance had been a challenge because the building’s appraisal was not for the typical 40-year lifecycle, but for 250 years. This longer lifecycle stems from the design of the exterior walls and curtainwall design systems, which allow for their easy removal from the building frame so that they can be remanufactured or replaced as the materials require. Those components alone will have a 50-year lifecycle. Meanwhile, the active controls, including the motorised exterior blinds and photovoltaics on top of the building, have been designed to be replaced as the technologies improve. The current features are expected to have a 30-year lifespan.
The standard appraisal calculation assumes discounted rents over time as buildings age, but both Miller Hull and The Bullitt Foundation, which will lease much of the building’s space, claim that the building will become more attractive to prospect renters as resources become more scarce and costly. Enthusiastic tenants have already committed to lease four of the building’s six floors.
Powered by solar panels, the building will contribute to the local grid during the summer, spinning the meter backwards. Seattle’s rainy climate will fulfil its water needs, though this feature has proven challenging. A proposed purification system of ultraviolet light disinfection and filters has yet to be approved by city regulators. The building will also compost its own sewage. Its eco-efficient features are not only structural, but also behavioural: tenants must promise that they will only use computers and electronic equipment that have high energy efficiency, and shut them down each night.
But for a city that buzzes off coffee, the bad news is that the building will lack any coffee house or a restaurant, due to the amount of energy such businesses consume.
Nevertheless, the Bullitt Center’s director, Denis Hays, is bullish on the building’s future, comparing its architectural features to the innovations of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, Native Americans’ pueblo cliff dwellings, and gothic cathedral’s flying buttresses. Whether the Bullitt Center transforms architecture remains to be seen – but at the very least, Seattle will be home to a vision of what a living city could look like in the future.