Category Archives: Living Future

New earthwork blooms at 1250 Denny


“ALL RISE’s 2421 Miles,” is a new site-specific 52,000-square-foot earthwork by New York artist Molly Dilworth at 1250 Denny Way, the future site of Seattle City Light’s Denny Substation.

The Seattle Office of Arts & Culture says it uses over 400 cubic yards of dirt and 182 pounds of wildflower and grass seed to create a living “urban meadow.” There are 14 individual garden beds, each with a specific colorway.

The work is based on pattern studies from national flags, corporate logos and traditional patterns found along the sea trade route between Seattle and New York.

The city said Dilworth has traveled between New York and Seattle as a freelance worker for a global technology company. The work is named for that commute – the number of miles between the airports of Seattle and New York – made possible by modern global trade.

The Office of Arts & Culture said in a press release:

“As shipping and port technologies evolved over the last century, formerly industrial areas such as South Lake Union have been redeveloped. In a short time this lot on Denny will be a power station serving the demands of the new buildings; ALL RISE has used this temporary space to mark a transition between the last century and ours. The geometric edges of the garden will soften and evolve as it grows, just as our built environment and technologies do: imperceptibly, right in front of our eyes and seemingly all at once.

“The project was realized with the design assistance of Walker Macy (Portland and Seattle) as well as expertise and custom mixes from ProTime Lawn Seed, and the advice of SunMark Seeds.

ALL RISE is a series of temporary artworks at 1250 Denny Way. The goal is to provide a platform for artists to consider “the many iterations of land and space: residential, political, commercial, agricultural, spiritual, intellectual, utopian.” It is funded by Seattle City Light 1% for Art funds, and administered by the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture.

The project will stay through mid-June. You can view online webcams at

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Transparency: the new mantra

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

Ten years ago when Alistair Jackson (now principal of O’Brien & Company) and Michelle Long (now Executive Director of BALLE) created the Transparency Institute, they just couldn’t gain traction they wanted and needed to make a go of it. “We were ten years ahead of our time,” Jackson sighs.  Now, transparency is all the rage. In fact, at GreenBuild recently, I couldn’t walk five feet without some reference to the concept.  Most references were focused on product transparency, but not all.  At the International Living Future Institute’s GreenBuild Booth, the nonprofit was touting its new “JUST” Label, which applies to organizations transparency.  Organizations of all types and sizes can earn the JUST label when they are willing to report on 22 social and equity indicators related to six categories: diversity, equity, safety, worker benefit, local benefit and stewardship. The JUST Label joins the organization’s DECLARE, a “nutrition” label of sorts for building products.

JUST is a voluntary disclosure program where organizations can report on their workplace equity policies and practices.

DECLARE is one of the latest efforts over the past decade to make it easier for building project teams to “do the right thing” when selecting products and technologies. Product certifications, such as those offered by the Carpet & Rug Industry Institute (focused on VOC emissions) and Forest Stewardship Council SC (focused on sustainably harvested wood products) have been one way to achieve this goal; but even there, industry members have been demanding more transparency, wanting to know what’s behind the “green” label.  DECLARE requires that manufacturers complete a Health Product Declaration (HPD) that is then publicly available.  The hope is that this label will make it easier for project teams to use the Living Building Challenge, which “red lists” materials and chemicals the ILFI deems hazardous.

Eden Brukman, Technical Director for the non-profit HPD Collaborative was staffing its booth at GreenBuild, where business was non-stop.  Brukman noted a “remarkable uptick in interest in (HPD’s) work.”  The Transparency Movement (as some like to call it) is definitely experiencing an upswing, and HPD is clearly a key player in this progression.  In addition to offering manufacturers an open standard format for reporting product content and associated health information for building products and materials,  the service is free for all to use, which is certainly one factor in its gaining popularity.

The HPD Collaborative partners with several product databases.  Green Spec was one of the first independent efforts to vet and list products meeting specific requirements.  The Pharos Building Library provides access to HPDs (as do most of the other collaborative members)  as well as a full assessment of health hazards associated with the product and its manufacture, VOC certifications, renewable material content, and renewable energy usage. SpecSimple is more recent, and unlike Green Spec or Pharos, includes advertising.  Another commercial database partnering with HPD includes Green Wizard, which integrates its product library with a proprietary software aligned with LEED credits (WORKflow Pro). I understand from one user that the software program is “pricey” but a good value. GPD’s THESource (which also offers advertising) aligns product transparency efforts with BIM and Revit; I attended a GreenBuild presentation introducing  GPDTools (Alpha), a free downloadable add-in specifically designed for the Autodesk Revit users to search, select and annotate building product data (including HPDs) directly.

Transparency has become a byword in the green building industry, where members are demanding to know more about the contents of the building products they use.

Nearly 30 manufacturers at GreenBuild were exhibiting products that are Cradle to Cradle Certified.  Up to recently a proprietary system closely held by its founders William McDonough and Michael Braungart, the Certification has gone public with the founding of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.  Lots of other product certifications were on display as well — sometimes several for the same product. One GreenBuild attendee complained that the multiple certifications on many product booths were confusing, but my guess is that as the drive for transparency takes hold, two things will  happen, the value of a given certification will be understood more clearly, resulting in a more nuanced weighting of that certification in the prospective purchaser’s mind.  Another consideration is the audience for the certification(s): a skilled professional whose license depends on being informed, and the less informed consumer of the skilled professional’s services.  My observation, at least at events like GreenBuild, is that professionals are seeking more information, not less. But they want to know the information they are getting is good quality — and transparency can help them know that.

Transparency is not intended, however, to sort out the certification puzzle. The commonly held view is that manufacturers won’t want to reveal damaging information, such as the fact that a given product includes harmful ingredients or was created using harmful processes.  Forward-thinking companies with solid product portfolios (or willing to create them) have done the calculus. This is good for business. Laggards will innovate or lose in the race for transparency.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development and most well known for founding O’Brien & Company, the oldest green building consultancy in the Seattle area.  She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. After 30 years of working in the field, she is now focused on providing leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project, a 501c3 non-profit with a mission to “accelerate life-sustaining solutions in the built environment through emergent leadership principles.”


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Your patio can also be a power plant

The following post is by Silicon Energy:

Two Washington-based companies said they are joining forces to make solar systems easier to install and more flexible than traditional roof- or ground-mounted modules.

Silicon Energy, a solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturer, and CrystaLite, a skylight and sunroom manufacturer, will create pre-engineered, integrated-PV systems. The new structures — including patio and carport coverings, electric car charging ports, and picnic shelters — will let solar contractors offer customizable, durable PV systems.

Silicon Energy said the modules are strong enough to withstand harsh weather and were recently rated the most durable among competitors by the federally funded National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

They were introduced at the recent Living Future’s unConference in Seattle.

PV systems can be installed on different types of structures.
The structures are offered in modular 4-foot widths, and can incorporate CrystaLite railing systems with glass panel, aluminum pickets or stainless steel cable railings. Silicon Energy and CrystaLite PV-integrated structures can be grid-tied or battery-backed to generate electricity in remote locations.

Silicon Energy said its double-glass design allows light transmission through the PV module with a mounting system that fully encloses and protects the system wiring, delivering an aesthetically pleasing and practical shelter. The open-framed, shingle-like mounting of the Cascade Series PV Module and Mounting System maximizes shedding of snow, dirt and debris from the modules, which optimizes performance.

Silicon Energy’s modules come with a 30-year power warranty, a 125-psf load rating and Class-A fire safety rating.

“A paradigm shift is needed in how we look at PV,” said Silicon Energy President Gary Shaver. “We need to think beyond the roof and fields and integrate PV even more into our local communities, bringing the beauty and benefits of distributed generation of PV into our built environment.”

The systems will be available starting in July.

Silicon Energy was founded in 2007 and is located in Washington and Minnesota. More information is at

Founded in 1982, CrystaLite is a Washington-based manufacturer of roof glazing, sunrooms and railing systems that are built by local employees. Primary vendors are in Portland and Hood River, Ore., and the company says 80% of its raw materials are from Washington and Oregon. For more information about CrystaLite, Inc., visit

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Living Future a Deep Dive into What’s Possible…and Necessary, says Noted Paul Hawken

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

Seattle. May 15-17. Living Future 2013 marks the 7th annual deep dive into the Living Building Challenge and high performance building.

Paul Hawken

With more Living Buildings coming on line (such as the recently LBC-certified Bertschi Science Wing and the Bullitt Foundation headquarters here in Seattle), the vision of a Living Future becomes more and more possible. It’s not just a pipe-dream! In remarks keynoter Paul Hawken e-mailed to me this morning, he comments:

“We are in an intense period of cultural and structural change, the depth of which is obscured by our tendency to cling to the past. Fundamental to cultural change is a complete transformation of the built environment, as different today from buildings of the past as a smartphone is from a rotary dial landline.

“In a world of increasing resource constraints, buildings are changing from structures that sit upon and harm the land to systems that interact with and support the biosphere. This is what the Living Building movement represents. Today, buildings are sinkholes for energy, water, and toxic materials. From what has been learned and implemented in the past ten years, we know conclusively that buildings can be the source of energy, water, and purification of in- and outdoor air.”

Hawken is one of three celebrated keynoters for the conference (David Suzuki and Jason McClellan being the other two), which has as its theme “Resilience and Regeneration.”  In his e-mailed remarks to me, Hawken argues that it’s not just possible, but absolutely critical to restore the qualities of resilience and regeneration to our built environment:

“These qualities are inherent in all living systems, organisms, and the planet as whole. Without them, life could not have evolved to what we see today. What we have witnessed and participated in during the past 200 years is a thermo-industrial system that ate its host—cultures, land, riparian corridors, topsoil, watersheds, coral reefs, and more. In the process, innate attributes of life were eroded and stripped away. Given the disruptions that we can now easily foresee with respect to climate disruption and its myriad impacts on food, water, cities, and people, it is imperative that we reach deep into the playbook of nature and reinvent what it means to be a human being living on the only earth we will ever have.”

Over 1,000 green building professionals and thought leaders will be at the conference hoping to learn and share cutting edge knowledge. Although most attendees will be from the Northwest, if last year is any indication, the gathering will include delegates from all over the world.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O’Brien & Company, the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project. She’ll be conducting an introduction to the EMERGE Leadership Model at Living Future this year.


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Which Living Building are you most excited for?

In the Pacific  Northwest, there are a number of living buildings in different stages of development. But in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C., there are three projects that stand out and will be fascinating to compare.

The projects are Seattle’s  Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, Portland’s Oregon Sustainability Center and Vancouver’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability. Though each is very different, they are large and significant enough to be comparable.  Unlike most living buildings, which have to date been smaller structures in isolated landscapes, each of these is in the center of a city. Each are being built by nonprofit or educational organizations. Each will act as a nexus of sustainability for their respective communities.

Of the three, CIRS in Vancouver is furthest ahead, and should be ready for occupancy this summer. The 60,000-square-foot, four-story structure is a dry-lab research facility for the University of British Columbia. It’s budget is $37 million Canadian. It was designed by Busby, Perkins + Will. I wrote a previous post about the project here.

Courtesy Perkins+Will Canada Architects Co.

Next, comes the Bullitt Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle. The Bullitt project, on Capitol Hill, will be six stories and a basement over 52,000 square feet. It is designed by The Miller Hull Partnership and Schuchart is the general contractor. Point32 is the development partner. Completion is planned for next summer. Bullitt is not releasing its budget but plans to release other detailed information on performance and development. At the design presentation for the project earlier this month, Jason McLennan of the Cascadia Green Building Council said “I think this is the most important building being built in the country today,” he said. “It’s going to open up a whole new set of eyes.”

Image courtesy The Miller Hull Partnership

Third, is the Portland project. It recently completed final design and should begin construction in early 2012, with an opening in late 2013. The team includes Gerding Edlen, SERA Architects, GBD Architects and Skanska Construction. The Portland Daily Journal of Commerce reported that the project’s budget is $59.3 million, not including $4 million needed to align streetcar tracks beneath it. The seven-story building will be 130,000-square-feet. It’s funded by the City of Portland, the Portland Development Commission and the Oregon University System.

Image courtesy Oregon Sustainability Center.

Though each is similar, a “green competition” has sprouted from the beginning between the Seattle and Portland projects. Time recently published a post on the “green war” here.

Though each building must accomplish the broad goals of the living building challenge (provide all energy, treat and provide all water) they are meeting the goals in different ways. In large part, jurisdictional codes and requirements have influenced design. The Vancouver building, for example, is essentially becoming its own waste treatment plant and will provide all its own water. The Bullitt project will use composting toilets, and is struggling with the ability to treat rainwater. I’m excited to see how each performs.

Which building are you most excited for? Which one do you think is the prettiest, or the one that you respond to best aesthetically? Answer our poll at right or comment below with your reasons!

P.S. For more on Seattle’s first building designed to living building standards that is complete, the Science Wing at the Bertschi School, click the living building tab or go here. It hasn’t received certification yet but is on track to do so!

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