Building the “Greenest Building on the Planet”

The Bullitt Center, under construction

Moving to Seattle over a decade ago from the Bay Area, I was struck by the lack of urbanity up here. For all its big-city aspirations, Seattle was – and still is, in many places – a city of single-family, separated houses and an urban core pockmarked with surface level parking lots.

So it’s been great to see the amount of urban infill that’s been happening on Capitol Hill over the last two years. With the economy improving, many stalled projects have sprung to life, and the neighborhood is bristling with cranes. Most of the projects are 5-6 story apartment and condo buildings, the sort of thing that leads to cries of “gentrification” but which are the necessary building blocks of a vibrant, walkable (and bike-able!) urban neighborhood.

Amidst these projects is the Bullitt Center. Perched above downtown, at the corner of 15th and Madison, the Bullitt Center is being built and billed as the “Greenest Commercial Building in the World.” From a massive, solar-capturing roof, to rainwater-collection systems, to a design that ensures no occupant is more than 30 feet from a window, the Bullitt Center is an attempt at maximum sustainability in a commercial structure.

What’s been really interesting to watch, however, is the juxtaposition between the construction of the Bullitt Center and all of the other buildings going up in the neighborhood. All that sustainability doesn’t come cheap, and the builders claim to be building the Bullitt Center to last 250 years (compared to the 40-year standard of a typical condo development). So it’s taking much longer. There’s also that crazy, cantilevered roof, the high ceilings and the massive amount of timber-frame construction going into a building whose height would dictate steel and concrete.

A typical condo project rises down the block from the Bullitt Center

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