The world’s greenest, most energy-efficient office building is taking root in Seattle. And while the project will deliver a wide array of environmental benefits, it will also increase knowledge and create positive economic impacts that are equally significant for the people of Seattle and beyond.
The project matters for one more critical reason: As the climate changes we desperately need new models for development.
It is estimated that building construction and operations accounts for 39 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, 65 percent of waste and 70 percent of electrical use in the United States. Led by the Bullitt Foundation, a team of architects and builders aim to change these statistics through the design and development of the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction.
Solar panels will generate as much energy as the building occupants use, showing that solar works, even in Seattle. Our ample supply of rain will provide as much water as occupants need, and wastewater will be treated on site to reduce downstream impacts. Large, operable triple-glazed windows will create offices where every worker can experience daylight and fresh air will circulate through the entire building. The use of toxic materials, which unfortunately are all too common, will be highly restricted in favor of locally sourced building products designed to last 250 years.
These design features will reduce climate pollution, protect Puget Sound and improve the health of building occupants.
And they are just the tip of the iceberg.
The Cascadia Center represents a new model of community with far-reaching implications. For example, the building will be “net zero” energy, equipped with so-called smart systems that help tenants carefully monitor and manage energy use. If one organization wants to use more than its allotted share of energy, there will be a market for trading with others in the building
As a result, tenants will need to work together to meet building-wide goals, sharing resources and creating a framework for a new type of culture and habits. This model will demonstrate an approach that can be replicated at larger scales, such as neighborhoods, cities, states or countries.
As a living laboratory, the Cascadia Center will serve as a beacon of what’s possible when people come together to use the leading edge of today’s technology. Students of all ages will be able to visit the building (or its online web portal) and see real-time diagnostics showing how the energy, water and other systems are functioning. Both the University of Washington and Seattle University have been early partners in the project exactly because of the opportunities to prepare students to solve real-world problems. And partnerships with K-12 public schools are also in the works.
The Cascadia Center’s transit-friendly location at the intersection of the Central Area and Capitol Hill is the result of a conscious choice to site the building where it will be visible and accessible to both residents and visitors.
The Center will share lessons from the project with architects, contractors, developers — including affordable housing developers — and anyone else who wants to learn how to create high performance buildings. As the first participant in the city of Seattle’s Living Building Pilot Program, lessons from the project will help reduce barriers to green building and expand options in the marketplace, eventually lowering first costs associated with innovation.
Climate change is the greatest challenge of the 21st century. Improving the ways we design, construct, and operate our buildings is a critical part of any set of solutions. With the Cascadia Center, the Bullitt Foundation is taking a bold step to demonstrate new models for development and to expand access to innovative ideas. By freely sharing the lessons from this project, even while it is still under development, the Foundation recognizes that the real impact of the Cascadia Center will come in its replication.