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05.16.2012
Getting Greener
Seattle's eco-district nearing reality.
A rendering of the carbon neutral Bullitt Center.
Courtesy Miller Hull

With catchphrases like “green,” “eco-friendly,” and “environmentally sustainable” adopted by everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Target, it can be difficult to distinguish significant change from commercial marketing ploys.

Attempting to better integrate the green agenda into local planning, the Bullitt Foundation, a Seattle nonprofit focusing on sustainability, awarded $50,000 last spring to the city’s Capitol Hill Housing Foundation to conduct a feasibility study for a neighborhood “eco-district.”

The foundation hired local firm GGLO to complete the study, and the firm last month began providing recommendations, including increased affordable housing, a community orchard, and a storm-water management system.

As Capitol Hill Housing Sustainable Communities manager Alex Brennan explained, the district planning unites neighborhood infrastructure and building design, considering energy, water, materials, transportation, and habitat. Proponents consider it a more unified alternative to LEED for neighborhood development.

“We see Capitol Hill as a catalyst for this type of planning, as the densest community in the northwest,” noted Chris Persons, executive director of Capitol Hill Housing.

GGLO’s study builds on a framework established by the Portland Sustainability Institute, which has already started pilot eco-district case studies for Portland neighborhoods like Foster Green, Lloyd District, and Gateway. A series of outreach forums will continue through the spring, giving residents the chance to learn more about the pilot and make recommendations. The next phases of the district’s progress will include establishing a management structure, a finance model, and policy frameworks.

The area is off to a good start. Later this year, Capitol Hill will become home to the six-story Bullitt Center—one of the first carbon-neutral multistory buildings in the United States. Named after the Bullitt Foundation, its primary tenant, it will also house the building’s general contractor, Schuchart Corporation, and the Cascadia Green Building Council.

Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership is designing the building, and landscape architecture firm Berger Partnership is restoring the neighboring McGilvra Place Park. The building is designed to be self-sustaining, producing and capturing its own energy and water. Energy will be supplied via a cantilevered solar panel roof; water will be collected via rainwater harvesting, stored in a basement cistern, and treated by an ultraviolet system. Gray water will be used to irrigate on-site vegetation.

For the building to be net-zero, the designers had to reduce more than 75 percent of its energy demands. Higher ceilings, and operable windows will allow enough natural light into the space during the day to reduce artificial light use to almost zero. Geothermal heat pumps will warm the building in the winter.

The Bullitt Center’s total cost is $30 million, a third more than the traditional midrise commercial building. Yet the concrete, steel, and timber core is expected to have a lifespan of 250 years, compared to the 40-year life expectancy of the typical commercial building.

“Much of what we are incorporating has never before been combined in a single structure. This will be a learning exercise,” said Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation.

Ariel Rosenstock