Opening on Earth Day last year, Seattle’s Bullitt Center has been the greenest building on the planet. You wouldn’t know it to look at it. It appears to be nothing more than a six-story office building (albeit with a very unique architectural profile). It was the winner of a competition to create the greenest—yet most economically viable—building. (If it were not for that qualification, the prize would most likely go to sod homes or “land arks” that are built halfway underground and recycle everything from shower water to urine to the condensation on their windows.
No, the Bullitt Center is trying to be a Living Building—the definition of which is set by 20 strict criteria, including that it must be self-sustaining in both water use and power for a year. The building still has two criteria to meet before it reaches those goals.
Architecturally, there is much to admire. The elevators require passcards to use, and are hidden to discourage use. Instead, it has what is referred to as an “irresistible stairway”, with gorgeous views and which almost coaxes you up to your destination. And, with 14,000 solar panels, the Bullitt Center produces more energy than it uses.
Much of the building’s benefits lie in its position in the city. All of those solar panels are guaranteed to catch the sun because of a perfect alignment of zoning laws, allowing no other buildings to block the sun. And the site was also chosen because it was a public transportation hub: more than twenty bus lines branch off of its block, plus a street car, and there soon will be a light-rail station within walking distance.
All of that said, the Bullitt Center appears to be losing its title as the greenest building to the Powerhouse Telemark, a building under construction in Porsgrunn, Norway. It aims to be not just self-sustaining, but to be a power generator for buildings around it. With a sloping glass roof, dotted with solar panels, and interior pumps and vents that collect the heat coming in from the sun, the developers expect it to generate enough heat in its 60-year lifetime to pay off its $17 million dollar cost.
Says developer Emil Eriksrod, he “hopes we will be plagiarized and copied, replicated on all seven continents.”