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Students, builders, museum trustees hear about the leading green buildings in the world

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/19/12 @ 9:00am  |  Posted in Green buildings, Projects

The Bullitt Center in Seattle has been called the greenest building in the world. Its developer, Chris Rogers of Point32, credits the Bullitt Foundation, which subscribed to the Living Building Challenge, a paradigm shifting green building process that Rogers says, "goes way beyond LEED."

Greenest building in the world, this week<br />The Bullitt Center in Seattle under constructionGreen roots<br />The Lewis Center in Oberlin helped launch a green building movement

Living Buildings put in to bricks and mortar (or bio-based materials) the vision that two decades ago the likes of architect Bill McDonough and futurist David Orr spun from beautiful prose in to the first generation of green buildings. The vision was always to design buildings that act like a tree, that are abundant, producing more than taking. How will the Bullitt Center, which embodies those ideals, shift the paradigm in how we build?

"I think would be great if we were the greenest building in the world—for a week," Rogers told the Building with Nature Symposium which is introducing new ideas about building for the future in to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's rebuilding process. "What we learned can be replicated, but you need to look at local conditions to fit with your climate and culture."

An example of how the Bullitt Center responds to local conditions: Their engineers devised a glare-proof glass that responds to a climate of ever shifting intense sun-and-clouds in Seattle. It is an appropriate scale tech solution to the problem of tenants closing blinds and turning on lights (and forgetting to reverse step when the sun goes behind the clouds again).

Culturally, the Bullitt Center responds to the foundation's core mission of urban sustainability by allotting every tenant a personal energy budget—how much of that daily budget you consume is available on a web site for everyone to see. Rogers says Bullitt is encouraging a peer-to-peer carbon cap-and-trade system inside the building. As a developer offering triple-net leases, Rogers offers tenants in the building who stay under their annual energy budget a credit on their utility bill.

It's possible that more places will be inspired by Living Buildings now that we have a living example or two in the world. What they did in Seattle to produce a net positive energy and zero water waste place is hard evidence that dreams do become real with the right framework—a radical reduction in energy demand driving good planning and engineering—and inspired leadership from the client.

So, what did they do in Seattle, what is this shot heard round the world? And as Jud Klein with local firm Hershmann Architects said at the final panel of the day, "I hope the museum is ready to take that leap"—to sign on and bring the foremost thinking on sustainable building design to Cleveland that it possibly can.

The Living Building Challenge revolves around six 'petals' for green design and performance—the most important being buildings that consume less energy than they produce (or save through energy efficient measures like natural daylight). The next big petal is capturing all the water that falls on its site. The Bullitt Center is among a handful of buildings already doing this, Rogers said, by designing smarter.

For instance, they worked with the city to go taller and thinner than code, which maximizes daylight (and reduced artificial light to practically nil). They also got a variance to not include car parking (they have ample bike parking and showers on all six floors supplied by rain water that is filtered through a large garden rooftop that shares space with a 244 kW solar panel to collect all the sun power they can (it's cloudier there than here). A geothermal heating and cooling system with a heat recovery ventilation unit was installed. They worked with a German company to design an operable triple-panel window—a midrise building with operable windows is practically unheard of until now. They also did extensive research on all of the materials to ensure local sourcing but also zero harmful chemicals (in some cases, they worked with manufacturers who changed their specs, an act that has benefits for all of their customers going forward).

The building costs $30 million—half subsidized by the foundation and some with federal grants—with an 15-18% premium on construction and a substantially higher premium for soft costs (since they are the first in the world to build to this standard, Rogers hopes that premium goes down for the next set of Living Buildings).

The big lesson from the early Living Buildings, Rogers and engineers Denzil Gallagher and Craig Schwitter, Buro Happold, panelists at the symposium who also worked on a Living Building, The Hawaii Preparatory Academy's Energy Lab, say they will be most successful when design and engineering are integrated. In addition, you need clients who are driven by the mission to be sustainable to keep them going.

Two skyscrapers that the speakers are involved with point to the future of green building: Net positive—meaning they're producing more energy than they are using. They have operable windows—breaking new/old ground to re-introduce natural ventilation in a skyscraper. Buro Happold is the engineer on PNC's new corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh. A skyscraper with a double facade— one with operable windows—and an innovative chimney that draws outside air up through the building's core to a 'solar chimney' cell on the roof where the air is heated and then routed over a heat exchanger that draws on that heat to power heaters and chillers is the type of innovation that the next generation of green buildings is producing. At minimum, says Gallagher, a building must capture it's waste—heat, water, human (PNC has composting toilets—also a first for a skyscraper), in order to consider itself green these days.

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David Beach
2 years ago

It would indeed be very difficult for a museum building -- with its requirements for strict temperature and humidity controls -- to meet the Living Building Challenge. But it would be interesting to see how many Living Building issues the Museum of Natural History could address.

Is Cleveland ready?
2 years ago

What would it take to make the Cleveland Museum of Natural History a Living Buliding? is it possible to make an energy intensive building -- one with chemical labs -- part of the Living Building Challenge?

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