DJC Green Building Blog Covering green building issues in Seattle and around the Pacific Northwest

Cascadia launches Groundswell to amplify its regional collective impact

Posted on December 2, 2013

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

You could say it's just a party, a fundraiser, or an awards ceremony. You could say that, but you'd be wrong. According to Mona Lemoine, VP and Executive Director of the Cascadia Green Building Council, "Groundswell"  is all that, but more.  According to the dictionary, "groundswell" means a sudden gathering of force.  Lemoine stresses that the December 12th event in downtown Seattle is designed to showcase a "call to action that intentionally energizes the region's grassroots and takes the green building movement to the next level."  The council plans to repeat the event on an annual basis, offering new challenges each time to galvanize and amplify regional collective impact.

In an interview with Lemoine at Greenbuild in November, Lemoine was quick to say "there has and continues to be lots of green building activity in the Cascadia Region. We could be satisfied with that. But the Council can play a special role stimulating and supporting new grass roots initiatives."

Of all the US Green Building Council Chapters, Cascadia has tended to be the first out of the block with new ideas and action to suit.  (Unlike most other chapters, Cascadia was founded based on bioregional boundaries, not geopolitical ones.) In fact, it's safe to say we have a bit of a "renegade" reputation within the larger organization.  So it's no surprise that the Council has invited "innovators, rulebreakers, and changemakers" to this part celebration, and part instigation event.

Michelle Long

This year the call to action will be framed by keynote Michelle Long, Executive Director of BALLE, which uses collaboration to identify and promote "the most innovative business models for creating healthier, sustainable, and prosperous communities."  Cascadia members will be asked to enlarge their thinking (and scope) beyond (green) bricks and mortar to include sustainable business development with the goal of "transform(ing) the communities where we work and live."  BALLE, which stands for Business Alliance for Local Economies envisions "a global system of human-scale, interconnected local economies that function in harmony with local eco-systems to meet the basic needs of all people, support just an democratic societies, and foster joyful community life."  By inviting Council members to consider this vision, Cascadia's leadership is seeking to expand on the collective impact that members have already had on the built environment.

David Barmon, a permaculture designer based in Portland, and Naomi Wachira, a local folk singer with African roots will round out the program.  And yes, there will be awards. All with a mind on acknowledging, but also inspiring, grassroots action. For the first time, Cascadia will be presenting Emerging Professional, Branch Collaborative, and Public Sector Leadership Awards.  Cascadia Fellows will be recognized at Groundswell as well. Fellows are local leaders recognized for catalyzing transformative advancements in green building at the local and national level. And yes, Groundswell is a fundraiser: $50 of every ticket is a tax-deductible donation to support the mission of the Cascadia Green Building Council. And, yes, it will be a party. According to the website, dress if "formal." Hmm..dress jeans?

Registration closes December 9, 2013. Click here for more information on the event and award nominees.

Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for and prolific writer about 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. Recently retired from O'Brien & Company, the green consulting firm she founded over 22 years ago,  she is now the Executive Director of The EMERGE Leadership Project, a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to accelerate life-sustaining solutions in the built environment through emergent leadership training.


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Old warehouse becomes cool new school

Posted on September 13, 2013

The following post is by Dennis Erwood:

Once a year, a single school within the entire state of Washington is recognized by The Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) for its exemplary design approach. This year, the coveted “Polished Apple” was awarded to the Northshore School District for its newly opened Secondary Academy of Success (SAS). The school is no stranger to such recognitions. Since it opened in 2010, it has won accolade after accolade, which raises the question: What does it take to design an award-winning school?

Secondary Academy for Success

Adaptive re-use: With space as a major constraint for new schools, the school district looked outside the box for unconventional solutions, turning to a former warehouse for the site of the new school. The business park location also made sense for SAS, as the school partners with businesses to provide students with real-world opportunities and experience.

Adaptive design: The team also looked for creative ways to use existing infrastructure to avoid major modifications that would increase costs. The raised loading dock created a second entrance for middle school students.  Support columns and trusses were carefully blended as elements of the interior design. Windows, lighting, color and materials were reconsidered to create a space that would be inviting.

How it looked before the renovation

Sustainable solutions: With a commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, the school district also looked for ways to incorporate sustainable design. Wind-powered generators, solar panels, operable windows and high-performance glazing were integrated as cost saving and green solutions. Real-time energy and water usage is shared with students and teachers via “green dashboards,” providing data for use in curricula that paves the way for potential green jobs. Perhaps the “greenest” element of all is the re-use of a former space instead of using the natural resources required to create an entirely new one.

The resulting design approach successfully transformed a one-story, monochromatic, car-focused warehouse into a natural light-filled, two-story learning environment with an outdoor plaza, classrooms, dining and common spaces that invite learning and collaboration.

Dennis Erwood, AIA, leads the education studio at the Seattle-based architectural firm Studio Meng Strazzara. He can be reached at


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AIA hands out its green awards… and none are from Seattle! Eeek!

Posted on April 23, 2010

This week, the AIA's national Committee on the Environment handed out its top ten green awards. And for the first time in two years, there isn't a project from Seattle! (There is however a project from Portland -Twelve/West by ZGF Architects - on the list so the Northwest didn't entirely miss out this year.)

Pacific Plaza used to be an ugly parking garage. Image courtesy BLRB.
Though the Northwest is often considered a leader in the green building movement, it's not too surprising that no Seattle project won an award this year. As far as super green projects goes, it seems to me like Seattle is in the middle ground right now. Last year, a number of high profile green projects in the region (some of which did win AIA COTE awards like Dockside Green in Vancouver, B.C. and The Terry Thomas in Seattle) finished up. And a number of cutting edge green projects are just getting planned or are about to be completed (Urban Waters in Tacoma, The Bullitt Foundation's Headquarters).

That's not to dismiss projects that were completed this past year. There has been some amazing work in the region (though a number of really cool projects are on a smaller scale or are different projects than AIA COTE traditionally honors). If you had to pick a project or two that was completed in the past year that exemplifies green design in the Pacific Northwest, what would you pick?

Off the top of my head, a couple projects come to mind. One is Pacific Plaza in Tacoma (rendering above). The project targeted LEED platinum and turned an old, ugly parking garage into a useful, efficient green building. If we're looking for models of what we can achieve with our existing structures, one need look no further than this.

The other is the headquarters of DA Stark Interiors in Georgetown. Made out of cargo containers, this project's structure is recycled and thus, inherently green. If we're really looking at reusing existing materials,

This Georgetown office project is made of re-used cargo containers
this seems like a really big way to do that. To see a video I created on the project, go here.

However, more than the national COTE awards, I look forward to the regional AIA What Makes it Green Awards. These awards are limited to projects in the Northwest and the Pacific regions. They are judged locally by high profile experts, often during an open process where viewers can listen in and hear what judges are looking for and what they are impressed by. I highly recommend attending the event, which will be held May 5 at Seattle City Hall from 1 to 4 p.m.

Until then, I'm posting a few winners of the AIA COTE honors below. If you want more info about any of these projects or want to see more pictures, visit the AIA's very informative Web site.

355 11th Street in San Francisco, a restaurant, office and industrial space. Designed by Aidlin Darling Design. Photo by Matthew Millman

Two images of Kaust, a school campus in Thuwal, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Designed by HOK. Photo by J. Picoulet.

Manitoba Hydro Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. An office space. Designed by Kuwabara Payne Mckenna Blumberg Architects. Image by Paul Hultberg.
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What Makes it Green is coming up…..

Posted on March 9, 2010
The San Juan Channel House on San Juan Island, by Anna Howlen, D + A Studio, was one winner of last year's WMIG competition
For everyone that does not yet know, the What Makes it Green final submittal deadline in this Friday. What Makes it Green is an AIA Seattle awards program that honors the best in local green design.

The program honors both projects that are already built and those that are "on the boards" or planned.

AIA Seattle will shortlist project teams between April 12 and 16. Then, those teams will go through jury interviews as part of the Living Future Conference in May. A celebration for the winners and a panel discussin will be held in Seattle in early June.

For information on last year's winners, click the tab 'AIA' below.

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The 10 Winners of What Makes it Green

Posted on April 30, 2009

The honors have been doled out. The party's done. And AIA's What Makes It Green is over for another year. To read my article in the DJC, click here.

There have been some interesting blog postings on this year's ceremony. Dan Bertolet's self-described rant at hugeasscity talks about the title of the awards, and whether, after all this time, we still don't know what makes it green. Dominic Holden at The Stranger also weighed in on the point of the awards here. The AIA Seattle COTE also live-blogged the process (go here if you want a full list of winners). 

Of the ten projects that won, it surprises me that six are in Washington. Two are in Seattle. If we're really looking at the greenest of the green, I would expect a wider range of geographic locations (considering the competition was open to designers and architects in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Montana, Guam, Hawaii, Hong Kong and Japan). 

This year's project winners included one project in Leavenworth, one in Woodinville, two in Seattle, one in Olympia, one on San Juan Island, one in Victoria, B.C., one in Billings, Mont., one in Portland and one in Denver.

By way of comparison, last year's winners included one two from Seattle, one in Tacoma, one in Issaquah, one in Bremerton, one in Billings, Mont., one in Corvallis, Ore., one in Portland, one in Salem and one in Bend. 

(Incidentally, both winners in Billings went to the same architecture firm - High Plains Architects).

But here's the thing: an awards process is only as good as the entries it receives. And from what I've heard, it takes a lot of time and effort to put a project entry together. So what can you do?

I don't have the answer. But I do have winning project pictures. Here are a few of them: enjoy!

Miller Hull's Building #35, Natural Sciences Building at Puget Sound Community College in Olympia

Anna Howlen of D + A Studio's The San Juan Channel House on San Juan Island

High Plains Architects' Klos Building in Billings
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Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the greenest project of all?

Posted on April 27, 2009

Tomorrow, the Seattle Chapter of the AIA will announce its winners of the What Makes it Green Awards. The awards celebrate the greenest projects in the Pacific Northwest (and a few overseas countries. Still not sure on how the overseas aspect works but it does).

So before they make their big announcements, I wanted to ask you, dear readers.... what do you think are the greenest buildings of the past year?

Nationally, the AIA chose Weber Thompson's headquarters and Dockside Green (for more info, click AIA tag below). Who do you think the local awards will honor?

Just for fun, I'm including some randomly chosen images of green buildings I have reported on in the past year. Let me know if you think these - or any I haven't mentioned - will be winners:

The garage next to the future Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Headquarters.

Alley House, Sloan Ritchie's Leed platinum home project

Gerding Edlen's Bellevue Towers in Bellevue

Building Changes' LEED platinum Kenyon House in Seattle

Vancouver, B.C.'s Convention Centre West

P.S. For pictures of last year's winners, click the tag 'AIA' or 'Awards' below!

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AIA hands out the greenest of the green awards – are they achieving all they should be?

Posted on April 13, 2009

Today, the AIA's Committee on the Environment selected its top ten green projects. Tomorrow's DJC will feature a short story and slideshow of the images but there were so many great pictures, we couldn't include them all. Here, I give you some of the pictures we aren't about to run in the DJC.

Local winners of the awards are Weber Thompson for the Terry Thomas Building and Busby Perkins + Will for Synergy at Dockside Green.

...But before I give you the pictures, I wanted to remind readers of the jurying for last year's AIA COTE awards, which were held here in Seattle. That event last April was one of my most favorite green events ever because the judges were - at times - brutally honest about the state of green building and how nominees need to go further in the quest for green goodness.  (I wrote a story about it called 'U.S. green buildings don't go far enough, AIA award judges say'.)

Among their comments (remember, this is last year's judging for 2008, not 2009) judges said: "We saw very much less of what I would really liked to have seen" (Glenn Murcutt); "Projects that call themselves green are not green enough and in most of the work that we see we're not taking the big enough leaps that we need to make" (Jason McLennan); and "The last thing you want to do is have the environmental movement associated with things that are overbudget and with things that are ugly" (Rebecca Henn). Like I said, sometimes brual. But honest.

I blogged on last year's winners here.

Unfortunately, I did not get to attend this year's jurying as it was not in Seattle. I wonder if it was quite as critical or if the entries had improved from last year. If anyone attended, I would love to hear a short review below!

However, Rebecca Henn's comments about the separation between beauty and performance seem to be officially part of the judging process now. An AIA press release says "In architecture, performance and aesthetics are inextricably linked. The COTE Top Ten is one of the very few awards that evaluates performance and design," said jury members. "Other awards and organizations look strictly at performance without care for how a building looks."

The award winners might achieve this balance but it still seems to be a pretty big issue, and one that local award programs have struggled with as well. It will be interesting to see the AIA Seattle's COTE awards at the end of this month.... (on April 28 if you dont' already have it on your calendar).

As for performance, it looks like most of the award winners are LEED platinum.

So, did these winners achieve both performance AND beauty? You be the judge:

Dockside Green in Victoria, B.C., courtesy Enrico Dagostini

World Headquarters for the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Yarmouthport, Mass., courtesy Peter Vanderwarker
Gish Family Apartments in San Jose, courtesy Bernard Andre Photography

Portola Valley Town Center in Portola Valley, Calif. Cesar Rubio, courtesy Siegel & Siegel Architeects

To read more about the award winners and to explore the jurying process, check out AIA's COTE page here.

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National energy shout out to Bellingham! Gooo B-ham!

Posted on October 27, 2008

The Environmental Protection Agency announced its 2008 Green Power Leadership Awards and the community of Bellingham is officially one of five national winners in the Green Power Partner of the Year Category. And the only winner (in that category) that is a city, or community as the case may be. And oh, by the way, it's the second year it has won this award.

For those of you who don't know, Bellingham basically rocks when it comes to

The beautiful city of Bellingham
The beautiful city of Bellingham

The beautiful city of Bellingham

renewable energy. In early 2007, the Bellingham local government chose to buy 100 percent green power for all city-owned facilities. Later the same year, the city helped launch the Bellingham Green Power Community Challenge, the goal of which was to increase green power purchasing among city residents and businesses to more than 2 percent of the city-wide electricity use. The community has surpassed the goal and buys more than 81 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy certificates; about 11 percent of the community's total electrical use. More than 2,400 households and businesses buy power through the challenge.

Portland General Electric won an award in another category - the Green Power Beacon Award. In part, the utility won the award for its Web site, which features coupons, a power calculator and information.

Other winners in the award category included Intel Corp, University of Pennsylvania and Cisco Systems. Winners in other categories included The Estee Lauder Companies, PepsiCo., the Philadelphia Phillies.

Almost inspires you to pay that extra $3, $6 or $12 a month towards renewable energy, eh?

For more information, visit the city of Bellingham's Climate Protection Program.

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Contests galore! Win a DJC tote bag or a green commercial kitchen

Posted on September 10, 2008

Loyal readers! Today I come to you offering some great prizes for your continuous attention to the DJC Green Building Blog.

DJC publisher Phil Brown models the green tote
DJC Publisher Phil Brown models the green tote

The first (and definitely the best) is a spectacular, new DJC reusable tote bag.  Afraid of being charged 20 cents per bag at your local grocery store? Forget about it with this

strong, stable and lightweight tote! Modeled at left by the DJC's stylish Publisher Phil Brown, and bearing the DJC's customary insignia ("helping business do business since 1893"), it's sure to be your favorite new accessory.

If you want to be the envy of your many grocery store friends, all you have to do is respond in a comment below to all or part of this question: What is the biggest obstacle to building green, how would you fix it and who do you think should be responsible for fixing it? Bags will be given until supplies runs out.

Our second possible prize (and less certain because it's another organization giving it

You know you want one
You know you want one

You know you want one

away) is a "certified green commercial kitchen" worth $40,000 from a contest sponsored by The Web site is an online restaurant supply retailer that has created a new green certification for commercial kitchens. To be certified, a commercial kitchen must earn points in energy and water conservation, waste reduction, green cleaning and green education. I can't speak to how stringent the process is and it looks like you might need to buy kitchen goods from the site to earn points, but I guess something is better than nothing. The certification itself seems emblematic of how the idea of green is spreading into new places.

Either way, the kitchen contest is fairly simple. Just go here and enter information by Oct. 31. A link for the contest is also included to the left of this page under 'links.'

Best of luck and happy winning!

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The bad green project examined

Posted on August 13, 2008

My recent post called "Is green building dangerous?" raised a number of mryuk.jpgcomments. In the post, I mentioned a project that had won a significant green award but was "poisoning" its inhabitants. One commenter asked for more information on the subject, so I went to Dan Morris, the indoor air quality specialist mentioned, for specifics on the project. Here is his response (WARNING, may be overly technical):

gas-mask.jpgMorris said the problem with the green house in question was the location of things. It had a large gas water heater used to heat the hydronic infloor heating and domestic hot water that was in a small laundry room with a washer, dryer, an exhaust fan and a fixed window. The occupants were not "poisoned" (as I originally stated) but were exposed to somewhat elevated levels of carbon monoxide over long periods in the house (either way though, it's not good for you). 

Morris said the carbon monoxide and other trace pollutants found in the flue gasses from gas combustion were drawn into the house whenever the dryer or exhaust fan was operated when the water/space heater was operating. The dryer or exhaust fan took air out of the laundry room with no provision for make-up air from outdoors. The only open hole to the outdoors was the water heater flue. The make-up air was drawn down the flue pipe and back drafted the water heater. In short, it was out of balance and pressure.

In Morris' words: "What was so disturbing about this house was that no one understood the basics of building science, or were not paying attention. This includes the: architect or building designer, builder, homeowners, code officials/inspectors, green building award people."

Obviously, this isn't every green designer or builder or award program... but how common is it? And whose responsibility was it to notice that all those things should not have been in the same room?

Another commenter, SteamboatEcoBroker, said with newer green buildings, air quality and ventilation systems are a must because they are much tighter than older buildings. So should more attention be paid to the air quality systems in a green building? Do green building systems focus too much on energy and not enough on other important aspects?

If you have any insights, please share them with me below.

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