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making an apples-to-apples comparison, given that reliable financial information on the cost and quality of commercial developments can be hard to find, and the Bullitt Center is the first of its kind, designed to last 250 years.
“The purpose of the Bullitt Center was to help shape future projects by overcoming obstacles and breaking down barriers,” the foundation says in the financial case study. “There is little doubt that the identical project today would cost significantly less.”
For example, builders who want to avoid toxic materials—a Living Building imperative—can draw on a lengthy list of products and suppliers developed by the Bullitt Center team. And, Hayes asserts that developers of the next Living Building in Seattle can follow the trail cut through the thicket of permitting bureaucracy by the Bullitt Center and Stone34.
There is now an ordinance recognizing Living Buildings on the books. City permitting officials are getting comfortable with departures from prescriptive energy codes governing things like window size, if a developer can show that the building will be significantly more efficient through other measures. Another ordinance makes it easier and less costly to install solar arrays that extend beyond the footprint of a building (allowing them to be large enough to supply as much or more energy than the building needs in a year). And there’s a clear—if still difficult—path to establishing what amounts to a small water district for each Living Building, so that rainwater can be collected and treated on site and used for everything including drinking.
“The Bullitt Center proved that it was possible to build a Living Building,” says Matthew Combe, program and operations director with the Seattle 2030 District, an organization of downtown building owners and developers focused on large reductions in energy, water, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with buildings. The Bullitt Center’s example, along with new incentives available to projects that pursue even only a partial Living Building certification, and Skanska’s profit on Stone34, are causing developers to take a closer look at high-performance buildings, he adds.
Developers that go through the city’s Living Building Pilot Program can request a range of departures from usual land-use rules governing things like building height and floor-area-to-lot ratios—essentially allowing them to build a bigger building than otherwise allowed on a given lot.
“We were looking for flexibility and ways that would help attract people to the program, and we are finding particularly that the height and the floor area is seen as an incentive by the development community,” says Aly Pennucci, a senior planner with the Seattle Department of Planning and Development. “It’s a pilot program, so we’re learning.”
The pilot program also focuses on waiving certain existing rules that make it difficult to meet the Living Building Challenge, Pennucci says. For example, higher floor-to-floor heights can accommodate larger windows to let in more daylight and reduce the need for electric lighting.
Buildings in the U.S. consume on the order of an eighth of the country’s water and two-thirds of its electricity. Buildings—and their occupants—account for almost two-fifths of carbon dioxide emissions. Improving their performance is a key part of any attempt to address climate change and urban sustainability.
The Living Building Challenge, administered by the International Living Future Institute, is part of a long chain of efforts dating back nearly three decades to reduce building energy and water consumption, reduce construction waste, and ensure healthy interior spaces. It rates buildings in seven broad categories, or “petals,” including site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty. A building can earn a partial certification by meeting the imperatives for three or more petals.
As one of the most demanding building-performance standards, the Living Building Challenge seeks not only to reduce negative environmental impacts, but to promote buildings that actually provide benefits such as producing carbon-free electricity and capturing stormwater runoff. The next version of the Living Building Challenge, which will apply to projects that register after May 22, will be tougher still, requiring buildings to produce more energy than they use and treat more waste than they generate.
Skanska, a Swedish global development giant known already for its emphasis on energy efficiency and sustainability, wanted to make a mark with its debut commercial building in Seattle.
Skanska executive vice president Lisa Picard says Stone34, at the border of the Fremont and Wallingford neighborhoods, is approximately 10 percent bigger than what would have normally been permitted on the site, thanks to incentives under the city’s pilot program. The building, a mix of office and retail space, also cost … Next Page »