Sea levels are rising, temperatures are higher, droughts are longer and more widespread, and flooding is more intense than ever -- these are just some of the effects of climate change we see today.
Although the long term effects of climate change are uncertain, buildings and land-use are responsible for a large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions come from many components of our urban landscape, including building systems, energy use, transportation, water use and treatment, land-cover change, materials, and construction. The Bullitt Center in Seattle shows us how the efficiency of buildings can improve the environment.
Not long ago, a team of dreamers and designers, contractors, architects, and environmentalists set out to construct the building of the future today. An eye-catching model of environmental design, the Bullitt Center is changing urban landscape for the better. Not only does it provide the headquarters of the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation -- an organization dedicated to promoting sustainable communities in the Northwest -- it is also the world’s greenest building.
The building is net-zero energy, meaning that the Bullitt Center uses the same amount or energy as it creates -- making it self-sufficient. There are many components that makes the building tick. Photovoltaic panels or solar panels are used to generate electricity. Seattle may not be the sunniest city, but somehow it works! With 575 solar panels on the roof work year-round to achieve “net-zero” status. During the summer months when production is high, the Bullitt Center pushes electricity onto the Seattle grid. During the winter months, the building takes from the grid as needed. The goal is that the summer surplus must always exceed the winter deficit.
Heat for the Bullitt Center comes from underground geothermal wells. Spaces in the building are heated with a mixture of warm water and glycol circulated in tubes embedded in the floors. The system removes heat from the ground in the winter and restores heat in the summer, following a natural cycle much like the solar panels.
Geothermal heating and cooling and operable windows are also used to increase energy efficiency. The design team got special permission from the City of Seattle to increase the height of each floor to allow for more daylight in the building, thus reducing the need for heat-generating light fixtures. The Building Management System (BMS) regulates the heating and cooling systems and even controls the window shades and operable windows. The building is like a living entity in this sense. When the building needs air flow, windows are automatically opened; when the building is cold, the systems will shut all the windows and activate the ground source heat pumps.
The Bullitt Center also encourages its tenants to maintain a healthy lifestyle at work. The staircase is made of crafted wood and steel-clad steps, offering breathtaking views of downtown and the Puget Sound to those who are able to take the stairs. Safe bike storage, on-site showers and repair station encourages bike use. These simple installations reduce tenant reliance on cars, making it easier to use bicycles for transportation.
So much goes into making a green building. Denis Hayes -- president of the Bullitt Foundation -- leads an effort to mold the major cities of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia into urban models of sustainability. In promoting and moving towards sustainable cities, Hayes believes “[a] deep green building is not a mere stylistic preference. . . [t]he decision to generate power with rooftop solar panels is not akin to selecting granite counter tops. Deep green buildings are a necessary component of resilient cities, and resilient cities are a strategic necessity if the current generation is to pass on a diverse, habitable planet to the next.”
A “Deep Green Building” is a building that emphasizes the performance or a structure that is flexible and can adjust to an uncertain future. These buildings must promote ecological resilience as well as being a healthy, beautiful addition to any community. The Bullitt Center represents how nature and urbanization can exist comfortably and productively as one. Making the least possible demand on resources by using the resources available wisely.
As a society, we have come to the point where we must begin taking action against climate change. Cities are slowly evolving into healthy living ecosystems that promote the well-being of people, but these changes don’t happen overnight. The Bullitt Center is a one of a kind example of how a lower-carbon future will not only have higher-performing buildings, but higher-performing communities preparing for the inevitable consequences of climate change. As more consumers begin to accept this type of green building, hopefully, we will see a future where cities are full of many buildings of the same kind.