DJC Green Building Blog

Dan Bertolet looks at success, cost efficiency of Issaquah’s zHome

Posted on November 10, 2011

This is a guest post by Dan Bertolet, founder of Citytank and an urban planner with Via Architecture.

Over the past few decades designers and policymakers have been working to increase the energy efficiency of buildings, and solid progress has been made. Still, today in the United States buildings account for 49 percent of energy use and 46 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Successfully tackling the dual challenges of rising energy costs and climate change is going to take massive reductions of building energy use.

A conceptual holy grail for energy-efficient building design is a building that generates as much energy as it consumes, a.k.a. a zero net energy building. And that's the goal of a recently completed 10-unit townhome development in Issaquah, WA, known as zHome, touted as the “first multifamily, production, zero-energy, carbon-neutral community in the United States.”

Image courtesy Dan Bertolet

Spearheaded by the City of Issaquah, the zHome project was awarded to David Vandervort Architects in Fall 2007, but subsequently the real estate bust forced the original builder to back out. Howland Homes took over in Summer 2008, and the project broke ground that September. Faced with financing challenges and delays, Howland then partnered with Ichijo, a large Japanese builder known for energy-efficient production homes, and the project finished in September 2011.

zHome was designed to achieve zero net energy use through efficiency measures that reduce consumption by about two-thirds, and photovoltaics (PV) that generate enough electricity to cover the remaining third---approximately 5,000 kWh per year. That requires a hefty amount of PV, and indeed, the south-facing panels that cover the roofs are a prominent feature. During the sunny summer months the PV produce more energy than the buildings need, and the excess is fed back to the grid. If the building operates as expected, that "banked" energy will offset the energy consumed during the dark winter months when PV output is low, the result being zero net energy use on an annual basis.

Energy-efficiency measures incorporated in zHome include ground source heat pumps that provide space heating and domestic hot water, heat recovery ventilation, a tightly sealed and highly insulated envelope (R38 wall, R63 roof, U-0.33 double pane windows), efficient appliances, LED lighting, switched outlets to reduce phantom loads, and a real-time energy monitoring system. (The project is also designed to reduce water consumption by 70 percent.)

So how much did all that extra stuff increase the cost? Asking prices for the units are relatively high for Issaquah: $385k for 799 s.f. 1-bedroom; $530k for 1350 s.f. 2 bedroom; and $625k for 1694 s.f. 3-bedroom. Apparently the free land and significant logistical support provided by the City weren't enough to negate the cost premium. Eventually the upfront investment in efficiency would be offset by savings in the energy (and water) bills, but given current energy prices payback periods are relatively long. Of course, if all the externalized costs of our energy were included it would be a different story, but unfortunately a carbon tax is not happening any time soon.

It remains to be seen if zHome will achieve zero net energy performance in the real world, and success will likely depend to some extent on the energy use habits of the occupants---one thing designers don't have much control over. In any case, whether or not a building can produce enough energy on site to hit net-zero isn't necessarily the be all and end all for sustainable design. Arguably, what's more important is the practice of "efficiency first"---that is, first figure out how to fully minimize the building's energy use, and then worry about how to supply the remaining energy demand.

Image courtesy Dan Bertolet

For example, the Bullitt Foundation's Living Building is targeting zero net energy and incorporates cutting-edge energy-efficient design. But analysis suggests that it could have been even more efficient if it had been built to the European Passive House standard, in which case it would have required less PV, potentially reducing both cost and physical design constraints.

Furthermore, when you look beyond the single building and consider larger systems of buildings and energy production, in some cases powering a building from an offsite energy source may make more sense than struggling to max out on-site generation. And for buildings taller than about six or seven stories, there simply won't be enough solar energy impinging on the site to meet demand, even for a hyper-efficient building.

In conclusion, while the concept of zero net energy buildings may have its limitations, projects like zHome and the Bullitt Foundation building remain hugely important for making progress on energy-efficient design. That's because they challenge designers to (1) work within a highly constrained energy budget, and (2) explore the limits of on-site energy production. And then there's also the potential for the big win as the designs move into the mainstream. Indeed, Ichijo has ambitions to ramp up the zHome concept to high-volume production. It won't be a moment too soon.

Dan Bertolet is an Urban Planner with VIA Architecture. VIA thanks City of Issaquah Program Manager Brad Liljequist for generously providing a tour of zHome. All photos by the author.

P.S. The DJC's Green Building Blog has written extensively about this project. To read more, and follow its progress, type 'zhome' in our search bar.

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GSA’s $72 million Seattle HQ requires performance

Posted on August 3, 2011

Somehow, I missed posting about a recent story I did on GSA's $72 million headquarters for the Seattle District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The story appeared in the June 27 edition of the DJC.

From a sustainable viewpoint, it's a fascinating project to consider. It's designed

Image courtesy ZGF Architects
by ZGF Architects and is being built by Sellen Construction.

The project aims to inspire a new era of sustainable workplaces with a goal of being the region's most energy efficient air conditioned building. Models say it will have an energy score of 100, placing it in the top 1 percent of U.S. buildings for energy performance. It may reach LEED platinum, uses geothermal heating and cooling combined with structural piles and is heavily daylit.

Federal Building_14_small
The team also focused on bringing new technologies to the area, including underfloor air and radiant cooling and a phase-change material that allows cold energy to be stored for future use.

But what I think is one of the most interesting elements is GSA knew how much energy it wanted the building to use and asked competing shortlisted teams to demonstrate how they'd get there as part of awarding the project.  It went a step further by also requiring the project prove its energy performance during its first year of operation, basically requiring a guarantee from the team.

Generally, anything like this is a big no-no, as I understand it. Under no circumstance, from a legal perspective, should a team guarantee to meet a requirement related to LEED or sustainability. But this is the GSA, the largest

The site in April of this year. Image courtesy Sky-Pix Aerial Photography.
landlord in the county. And the project is backed by federal funds. One doesn't really have a choice, other than to not compete, now do they?

As LEED continues to proliferate and green building fades into the background even further as just a part of good building, do you think this type of performance requirement will become more common? Or is this just a one-time deal?

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Tom Douglas’ 3 new restaurants in South Lake Union historic renovation

Posted on March 22, 2011

I attended a press event this morning for the completion of Amazon.com's fourth phase of headquarters work. Attendees were invited into the historic renovation of the Terry Avenue Building next door. Terry Avenue, located on Terry Avenue North between Thomas and Harrison streets,  is soon to be the home to three (!!!) new Tom Douglas restaurants. Terry was designated a historic landmark in 2008. It was built in 1915, and was a hardwood flooring and cabinetry warehouse until the 1950s.

Surprisingly, the press release doesn't say much about the building's sustainable elements (other than it has the first green roof on a historic building in the city). Terry was part of Amazon's phase four and the release does say phase four buildings targeted LEED gold certification. From a sustainable standpoint, the fact that it is a historic renovation automatically buys the building some credibility. I asked Douglas why he liked the space. He pointed to the 1908 wooden pillar I was leaning against and said projects don't get much better than that.

Douglas also said the building is the first place he'd head during an earthquake, due to the extensive seismic renovations that went into it.

The three restaurants will all be open by mid-April. Cuoco, on the ground floor, will serve fresh pastas made in an open kitchen and will seat 100. Ting MoMo, a Tibetan dumpling cafe led by longtime Douglas chef Deyki Thonden, is to the east of the second floor and will seat 40. The Brave Horse Tavern, to the west of the second floor, will seat 150 and serve Americana food. Cuouco should open the last day of March or first few days of April. The other two restaurants will open the following week.

At the event, Ada Healey, vice president of real estate at Vulcan, said a number of things still have to happen in the neighborhood, including an up-zone. I chatted with Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin briefly at the event and he said council is trying to balance the needs of a new urban neighborhood with the need to protect the area's heritage. It is an especially pertinent time to discuss this topic as The South Lake Union Height and Density Alternatives Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which addresses this issue, is accepting comments until April 11. What do you think? Should South Lake Union be allowed to go higher? Or are there heritage elements in the neighborhood still to protect? Would love to hear your thoughts.

In the mean time, here are pictures! To see more, check out my Facebook page here.

The Terry Building from the outside, amongst Amazon.com projects. Images courtesy Katie Zemtseff.

Inside of The Brave Horse Tavern. That's Tom Douglas, behind the horse.
Inside of TingMomo Cafe (Tibetan dumplings!)
A bull statue in Cuoco.
Shuffleboard at the Brave Horse Tavern.
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King Street Station rehabilitation on track for platinum

Posted on March 11, 2011

This week, I toured King Street Station. For those of you who aren't aware, the 1906-built-station is in the midst of a $50 million renovation. The project is absolutely, totally and utterly incredible.

The main thrust of the project is a much needed seismic renovation. Seriously, the tons of steel being put into this project are indescribable. But King Street Station is also a historic building and must be maintained as such. Once the rehabilitation is complete, it will be very sustainable: it's on track to meet LEED platinum, up from a goal of LEED silver. Last year, the project's sustainable efforts were honored by AIA Seattle with a gold level award from the What Makes It Green event. ZGF Architects is the architect. Sellen Construction is general contractor.

Obviously, the most sustainable thing about the project is the fact that it is a historic renovation of an old structure, which retains the embodied energy inherent in the building. But the team went much further. Geothermal wells in the building will likely provide all heating and cooling. The main waiting room will return to its 100-year-old state of being naturally ventilated. Incredible effort has been spent to save, clean and better old building materials. All of these elements will be detailed in a future DJC story.

For now, I'll whet your interest with some photos of the space. As you can tell, I got to tour the inside of the clock tower, which is not part of the current project's phase. However it is really cool. To see more photos of the clock tower or tour, follow my page on Facebook here. And if you haven't voted for this blog yet as best of the web, please do so. For more info on that, see the post below.

Enjoy!

The brown section above is original plaster work. The white part below is where the original plaster was ripped out and replaced mid-century. The white section will be renovated to match the brown section. All images copyright Katie Zemtseff.

This entryway has been hidden for decades. It will be cleaned up and opened to the public as part of the rehabilitation.

This is me behind one of the clock faces in the clock tower. This is not part of the current rehabilitation project (but it is awesome!)

Water pouring down a staircase that has been closed to the public for decades. It will be opened up as part of the project.
This is the office space on the station's third floor. In recent years, it has been the home of pigeons and dust.
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Read the DJC’s free Building Green Special Section

Posted on February 24, 2011

If you don't have a subscription to the DJC or don't click on our articles as they are locked, you might not know about our free special sections.

Special sections, written by people in a targeted industry for people in the industry, are free to read, meaning even you non-subscribers can access valuable information. Special sections come out about once a month and each section focuses on a different topic. This month's excellent topic is Building Green and I am thoroughly impressed with the breadth of this year's coverage.

The free special section is here.

In it, you'll find this excellent article by Michelle Rosenberger and Nancy Henderson of ArchEcology called "Watch out for 'greenwashing' by service providers." Among its interesting points, the article examines whether consultants can truly bring a LEED approach to a project without rigorous third party LEED certification.  Interesting item to bring up.

There's this article by Constance Wilde of CB Richard Ellis reflecting on her personal experience of  becoming a Certified Green Broker, and its values and benefits.

There's this great article by Joel Sisolak of the Cascadia Green Building Council called "Two Seattle projects set 'net-zero' water goals," which looks at the region's water infrastructure and two living buildings (The Bertschi School's Science Wing and the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, both covered previously in this blog)  that plan to go off the water grid and their challenges in doing so.

Then there's this article by Elizabeth Powers at O'Brien & Co. on whether green parking lots can be (gasp!) green. I'll let you read the article to learn more.

The section also has articles from representatives of Skanska USA Building, Mithun, MulvannyG2, GGLO, Scott Surdyke, Sandra Mallory of the city of Seattle and CollinsWoerman on topics ranging from the city's role in evolving practices to big box stores, student housing and public housing.

So go ahead, check it out and enjoy!

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Visit Seattle’s first (likely) living building

Posted on February 22, 2011

Recently, the Restorative Design Collective completed what will likely be the first living building in Washington State at the Bertschi School. Of course, we won't know whether it meets living building certification until it has operated for a year. But the project is designed to provide all its own energy, treat its own water and lay light on the land. It is called the science wing and will be a scientific learning area for students.

This is the first living building project to target the 2.0 version of the challenge (a tougher standard than the original), and the first project to be built in an urban area. The project was built largely through volunteer work, organized by a group called The Restorative Design Collective. The project cost about $1 million but members of the collective donated about $500,000 in pro bono time in addition to that.

Stacy Smedley, of KMD Architects and co-founder of the collective, said it is important to have a living building in the region where the challenge was born. Jason McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Chapter, published the challenge at the end of 2006. Chris Hellstern, the other co-founder of the collective, is also at KMD.

The DJC story on the finished product is here, a story written last June details the founding of the collective and design plans here. If you don't have a DJC subsciption, this story is unlocked (meaning anyone can read it). It's a really interesting personal look at problem solving issues on the project. We also covered the installation of the building's SIPS panels on the Green Building Blog here.

For instance, the team focused heavily on water and has a system in place that would treat collected water to potable standards. But before it can do that, it must wait for state and local rules to change. A runnel, cut in the ground, will allow children to see flowing rainwater.

Bertschi will offer tours of the building, though it will usually be a science wing for students' education so tours must be pre-arranged. For more information, call Bertschi at 206-324-5476.

If you're interested in learning more about living buildings, check out the fifth annual Living Future (Un)Conference. This year it is in Vancouver, B.C. from April 27-29. As someone who has attended each of these conferences so far, I can say it is an incredible time.

Here are some pictures of the finished product. More pictures on my Facebook page here.

The exterior of the science wing, Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff

The living wall and area where children will do plan and animal experiments, image courtesy Katie Zemtseff
Closeup of the living wall. Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff.
A runnel where students will be able to watch rain water flow, like a river. Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff.
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Is modular the next big thing?

Posted on August 24, 2010

In the fallout from the recession, I'm hearing a little bit here and a little bit there about green housing projects. But what I seem to be hearing a lot about is prefabricated, modular projects or buildings constructed of pieces made at a factory. Whether cottage dwellings to go in a backyard or totally separate houses, this field seems to have an underlying invigorating energy, leaving me to wonder if it's the next big thing?

The GreenFab demonstration home, courtesy GreenFab
Locally, two companies come to mind. I recently met and interviewed the owners of GreenFab- Johnny Hartsfield and Swen Grau - about their very first modular housing project in Jackson Place, pictured at left. GreenFab's overarching goal is to revolutionize housing. But it plans to start now by building well-designed, sustainable, affordable modular projects, or by consulting for others who want to do the same thing. Look for a story soon on this company in the DJC.

You might remember my mentioning GreenFab in a post from last summer here (as a disclaimer from that post, GreenFab's projects will likely not pursue the Living Building Challenge now, though Hartsfield plans to do so in the future). The project is targeting LEED platinum certification.

The other company, Backyard Box, was founded by Seattle green developer Sloan Ritchie. This concept is focused more on backyard cottages. Customers select a design they want with a set price, can choose to pay

A Backyard Box project by Blip Design, courtesy Backyard Box
for upgrades, and leave permits and construction to Backyard Box. I wrote a story about the business in April here.

Then there was June's Backyard Cottage Design Challenge Showcase, hosted by Method Homes (another local developer of prefab projects) and Infiniti RED. The challenge showcased the work of 35 local architects and designers who submitted prefab friendly backyard cottage designs. That showcase can be viewed here. Ideabox of Salem, Ore., is yet another regional prefab company.

On the less-local front, Charles Redell at Sustainable Industries wrote a piece here on August 19 called "Modular Could Lead Commercial Construction Market." In it, he discusses a new partnership between YKK AP America, a manufacturer of building components, and Project FROG, a panelized modular building company. In it, Oliver Stepe of YKK says his company is repositioning towards the next innovation of the built environment.

Then there's this article by Dave Walsh from last October that discusses modular buildings' growth in Holland. If it's growing in Holland, you know there's a chance it will catch on here: http://www.djc.com/news/ae/12011276.

In light of the state of the economy, combined with the presumed increased efficiency and lowered cost of modular housing... is it the next big thing?
It will be interesting to see how this topic moves forward. I'm curious to see how GreenFab and Backyard Box's businesses progress over the coming year, and on whether they are the beginning of a slew of new businesses that will soon come in this arena.
Then again, in October of 2008, James Timberlake of Philadelphia-based KieranTimberlake Associates told me that the way of the future is not just prefabricated buildings - it's designing buildings for both assembly and disassembly. So maybe we're missing something by limiting ourselves to simply creating a building for permanent use. What do you think?
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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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Bullitt wants to go off the water grid: realistically, will it be able to?

Posted on March 17, 2010

I have a story in today's paper on The Bullitt Foundation's proposed living building on Capitol Hill. The project is fascinating: it aims to create all its own energy, produce and treat all its own water and re-energize the neighboring park among other points.

The project has a lot of interesting aspects. However the one I'm most interested in is the water angle. The building hopes to break the mold by capturing all its rainwater off the roof, which will be held in an underground cistern, according to Colleen Mitchell, project manager with 2020 Engineering. Then, some of the water will be treated by UV filters, pumped to faucets throughout the building and used as potable (or drinking) water. Some of the water will be sent to toilets, which will use one pint per flush. All waste from the toilets will be sent to a composting container in the basement, where it will slowly compost and be used for the building's greenhouse. The greenhouse will run up the south side of the building with plants on each level. Urine from the toilets will go to four tanks in the basement where it will stabilize and be sterilized over a three-month time period. After three months, one part urine will be mixed with eight parts greywater (or the water that goes down faucets). That mix will be sent to the greenhouse where it will be evapotranspired by plants with nutrients from urine being used for fertilization.

I've got a rendering of what the system will look like here:

This is what the water system will look like. Click on image to enlarge.

Image courtesy 2020 Engineering

The system is incredibly cutting edge and will set an amazing precedent if permitted. And the 'if,' dear readers, is a big 'if.'

Unfortunately, the precedent is one of the things that probably has permitting agencies worried. Last June, I attended a forum on water attended by a number of speakers. One of them was Steve Deem of the state health department. Going off the water grid is great in theory, he said, but architects, developers and engineers don't generally understand that if a project provides water, it is responsible for the building's water forever. That raises a lot of health and safety issues.

Secondly, there's the issue of charges and rates. King County is in the process of building Brightwater, its massive, multi-million-dollar water treatment plant outside Woodinville. Brightwater gets paid for in part by capacity charges, fees and rates from users. From what I've heard from multiple sources, projects are welcome to go off the water grid, as long as they pay those hook up fees and charges. For most developers, this is a turnoff because they are paying twice - once for the water system and once for the hook up. Bullitt has yet to finalize these details with the county. Chris Rogers of development partner Point32 said, "There will be conversations with the county and other players to understand what sort of levies there will be for something that we don't use."

At that same June meeting, Christie True, director of the King County Wastewater Treatment Division, said it's a social justice issue. If developers don't pay for wastewater infrastructure, people with fewer resources will end up paying more.

Last April, Ray Hoffman, acting director of Seattle Public Utilities, said on-site water treatment is not moving forward in the Puget Sound area because of bureaucracy. "There are institutional barriers on both the public and private side that prevent things that are readily available from getting off the shelf and into the ground."

These are some of the issues Bullitt faces in trying to go off the water grid. I don't envy them the process but it will be an amazing achievement if they succeed.

When I asked him about the difficult code issues he was about to face, Denis Hayes of Bullitt said all agencies are on the same page in wanting to see innovative projects happen. "We’ll take that robust optimism until somebody in authority says we shouldn't have it."

What do you think, readers? Just how important is this project and what kind of a precedent will it set? Will it succeed in getting off the water grid and are the health and social justice issues valid concerns? I'd love to hear from you on this topic.

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Mission: Sustainable’s premier a huge hit

Posted on February 12, 2010

On Thursday evening, I attended Mission: Sustainable's premier at Fisher Pavillion at Seattle Center. IT WAS A HUGE HIT! And I mean huge.

First, the room was absolutely packed. I would say there were about 600 people there but introductory speaker Gabriel Scheer said attendance was around 1,000. Either way, it was really impressive for a grassroots Seattle event.

For those of you that have not been following this story, a little less than a year ago Producer Rose Thornton decided to make a television show called Mission: Sustainable. The reality show aims to makeover a subject's life, eating habits, living environment and transportation choices in a sustainable way while educating viewers on the value of green choices.

For those of you that couldn't come, here are pictures of the event. I was really impressed by how well dressed most everyone was... for Seattle, this was a really stylin' crowd!

For those of you that did come, what did you think? Would this kind of show be interesting for a national audience or is it too Seattle? If you saw it, what did you like about it? What would you change?

As for what happens next, now that the show is complete and has had its coming out party, there's more work to be done! Thornton and the crew are looking to find distribution for the show... and you can help! If you know someone influential in the TV business, or just have a tip for the team, visit Mission: Sustainable.

P.S. Congrats to the show and for doing this all on a $1,000 budget. It's a great example of how something big can get done with enough willpower behind it. Also, kudos to our own DJC Green Building Blog. Without which, co-host Megan Hilfer might not ever have seen the advertisement for a host! Good job guys!

The green carpet leading the way into the premier
The giant crowd
The crowd, half seated
Rose Thornton, show creator and producer
The whole cast and crew of the show, after the premier
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