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

Will private developers pick up living buildings?

Posted on November 3, 2011

In Fremont, a different kind of living building is in the works: it's being built by a private developer.

The five-story, 120,000-square-foot building is being developed by Skanska and

is Skanska USA’s first development effort in the Seattle market. (Talk about a way to come to the market with green guns-a-blazing!)

Brooks Sports is the anchor tenant and will take 80,000 square feet and move 300 employees into the space in late 2013.  Skanska said it would lease the site from the owner, Fremont Dock Co. The site is at 3400 Stone Way N., next to the Burke Gilman Trail and near Lake Union.

This project is of course fascinating because it’s a living building, widely considered the toughest green building certification on the planet. But another thing that makes it stand out is who’s building it. All living buildings on this coast that I'm aware of are built by schools (University of British Columbia's CIRS project); nonprofits (the Bullitt Foundation's headquarters in Seattle); consortium's of city groups or donors (The Bertschi School Science Wing); or partnerships involving all of the above (the Oregon Sustainability Center in Portland). There's also a few home projects thrown in. These groups have various resources (tax credits, donors, endowments etc.) that a standard developer doesn't have access to.

Skanska's project in Fremont is the first I'm aware of to be built by a commercial developer on its own. Granted, it is being self-financed. But the fact that Skanska is building it means the company sees a future in living buildings. It's taking a chance! In the scale of things, it will be incredible to see how this project works out because it will inevitably be used as a living building test case for other developers.

Living buildings are fascinating creatures but they're not cheap. Generally, I'm hearing that developing a living building costs a third more than a standard project. Schools and nonprofits are willing to make that investment. But the formula gets more complex with private development. Adding to the complexity, Skanska is aiming for its project rents to be market rate.

Chris Rogers of Bullitt’s development partner Point32 says Bullitt's space will be market rate too, though it's being marketed towards environmentally-minded businesses and organizations. The Cascadia Green Building Council is one tenant. For these organizations, the environment is a critical part of what they do. For Skanska's more mainstream tenants, locating in a living building says they care. But Skanska's also got to do more convincing.

In this DJC article from last June, Peter Busby of Vancouver's Busby Perkins + Will said it cost his team $100,000 to go to living building status on two Vancouver projects. He said it generally costs $40,000 to have a project certified LEED gold. The Bullitt Center project is costing about $30 million, with Bullitt putting up half that amount and borrowing the rest from US Bank. Rogers of Point32 says a lot of the cost is a first-cost premium, because it’s the first time his team (or any team) is moving through a living building project of this size with the city. But there’s still a premium.

According to the International Living Future Institute, it costs $20,000 for living building certification of a building that is between 107,640 and 538,195 square feet.

Skanska’s project is also interesting because of what it could bring to the neighborhood. The end of Stone Way near Lake Union has a handful of stores but is kind of a dead zone. In a Seattle Times story, Ryan Gist, a neighbor called it "an odd, pseudo-industrial street that really doesn't do much for the neighborhood."

Once complete, the ground floor of this building will house Brooks' first ever retail concept shop. The goal is for the shop to act as a gathering place for the community and trail users.

There are some neighborhood concerns about the structure's height. Here's hoping a clean agreement can be made on that topic so this revolutionary project can move forward.

By the way, back in January, I wrote this post about the launch of Skanska's Seattle commercial development division. In it, I said:

"I'm curious to see what kind of projects they pursue, what kind of sustainable goals they target, and what kind of green technologies they might choose to pursue that others wouldn't be able to. Of  course, they could simply go the LEED gold route. Or they could build something really innovative."

I don't want to say I told you so but it's fair to say this project falls to the later half of that spectrum. Now the question is to see how it plays out.

P.S. It's interesting to see the architecture firms with living buildings under their belts. This project is being designed by LMN. Bullitt's is designed by Miller Hull. The Bertschi project was designed by members of KMD Architects. I'm going to be waiting to see how long it takes for the area's other big green architecture firms to add a living building to their project list. At the current pace, I'd bet we'd see another two or three pop up.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Which Living Building are you most excited for?

Posted on May 25, 2011

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!

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Next week is going to be crazy with loads of green events!

Posted on April 30, 2010

Next week, there is an insane amount of green building events. Having so much in one week makes it really tough to decide what to attend. I have an idea of where I'll be, what about you?

Here are the green events I know about. I'm sure there are a number of others that are just not on my radar. If

You\'ll be running from event to event next week!
you know of any others in the Seattle area, feel free to post them in the comments below.

  • Cascadia's Living Future Unconference will run from May 5 to 7 at The Westin Seattle. This is the fourth Living Future and the first time it will have made its circular round back to the same city (it began in Seattle in 2007, then was in Vancouver, B.C. in 2008, then was in Portland in 2009. I've been to each conference and would highly recommend it). The conference costs $695 for Cascadia members and $760 for general registration. Speakers include James Howard Kunstler, Jason McLennan, Pliny Fisk, John Francis and Bill Reed.
  • AIA Seattle's What Makes It Green? Judging will be held next week, in conjunction with Living Future. The event costs $5 for members of AIA and other organizations and $20 for non-members. Judges include Bob Berkebile of BNIM, Donald Horn of the General Service Administration's Office of Federal High Performance Green Buildings, Claire Johnson of Atelier Ten and Alex Steffen of Worldchanging. The talk will be moderated by Nadav Malin of BuildingGreen. The event runs from 1 to 4 p.m. at Seattle City Hall on Wednesday.
  • Also connected with Living Future is King County's GreeenTools Government Confluence. This conference focuses on sustainability at the government level but has a stellar line up  of speakers. Speakers include Bill Reed of the Integrative Design Collaborative, Lucia Athens of CollinsWoerman and Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University. There are a number of registration opportunities and fees that vary, based on whether you are a King County employee or not and whether you are attending Living Future. Click on the link above for more info
  • On May 5, the Washington Foundation for the Environment is holding a talk on the region's environmental protections. The talk beings at 7 p.m. and will be at the K&L Gates Offices at 925 Fourth Avenue on the 29th floor. Speakers include Washington State Department of Ecology director Ted Sturdevant and Environmental Protection Agency Region X director Dennis McLerran. The two will discuss their plans to protect the region's waters, air and land. The event is free but RSVPS are required. RSVP to
  • Next week is also Seattle Sweden Week. There is a conference called Business Focus-Edays, which focuses on clean technology, sustainable development and global health. There are a number of interesting sessions. For more on the conference, go here.  As part of Seattle Sweden Week, there will also be a talk at the University of Washington on May 5 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in Parrington Hall. The talk is called Narratives on Sustainability: Gustav Froding, Thomas Transtromer and others. More info on that here.
Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Not at Greenbuild this week? Come discuss the recession, green development in Seattle!

Posted on November 9, 2009

How will the recession affect green buildings, codes and development?

It's a timely question and one I've been wondering about for some time. It also happens to be the topic of a panel discussion I am moderating on Thursday evening for the Cascadia Region Green Building Council at

What to do?
Seattle University.

The event features a number of great panelists: Michael Weinstein of the Urban Innovations Group, Bruce Herbert of Newground Social Investment, Jayson Antonoff of the City of Seattle Green Building Program, Ric Cochrane of King County Green Tools Program and Aaron Fairchild of G2B Ventures. Come eat, drink and discuss with us! The discussion costs $10. To register, go here.

However, our event is not the only good thing happening on Thursday evening. If you're not at Greenbuild, here are a number of local things to keep you interested:

On Wednesday and Thursday, Alex Steffen of will host a two-day lecture to flesh out a pathway to a great sustainable future. On Wednesday, the lecture is called "A new Global Future," and on Thursday it is called "Seattle's Bright Green Moment." Each lecture costs $5.

On Thursday, Tacoma will host a talk on its Center for Urban Waters. The center, an environmental research space, is seeking LEED platinum certification. The talk costs $10 at the door or $7.50 in advance. More info here.

On Friday and Saturday, the Northwest Energy Coalition is hosting its fall conference on energy efficiency. The conference features a keynote talk by Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist for Microsoft, and multiple panel discussions. More info here.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Living Future seeks conference submissions

Posted on October 8, 2009

If you (like me) are busy thinking about Greenbuild, the Cascadia Chapter of the USGBC is way ahead of you: they're thinking of next May's Living Future Conference and they want your presentation submissions. Now.

For those of you that have never been, Living Future is an "unconference," meaning that it is presented in a

Living Future is a lot like these ladies. A little odd but very chic. Photo Credit : A. Zucca / Roger-Viollet as seen on Fashion Nation
Photo Credit : A. Zucca / Roger-Viollet as seen on Fashion Nation

Living Future is a lot like these ladies. A little odd but very chic.

unique, somewhat non-traditional way (while still being a conference by definition of course). Living Future is a bit like your eclectic cousin - the one that wears vintage shirts from the 1960s, pants from the 1980s, fancy modern shoes and weird jewelry from who knows when. They might look a little odd but they always say interesting things. In comparison, Greenbuild is the buttoned up family patriarch.

Anyway, if you have something to share that's innovative, creative or a bit off center, Living Future is looking for conference submissions. Entries are due by Oct. 30 and priority will be given to localized, community level efforts to solve "the problems we face." Examples may be urban food production, decentralized water and energy production, eco-districts and local economies.

This year's conference will be held in Seattle (the conference alternates every three years from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C., to Portland) and I'm excited for it to be back in my home town. It runs from May 5-7. This year's theme is "Building Hope, Revaluing Community."

To learn more, click here.  If you want to speak with a person about this opportunity, contact Jon Gordon at

Speaking of Living Future, I have attended all three so far. If you have been to multiple Living Future Conferences, which one was your favorite?

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

To support green buildings should codes stay the same, be reworked or be reinvented?

Posted on August 7, 2009

On Thursday, the DJC published an article I wrote on a new report that says codes are getting in the way of cutting edge green buildings. This, in itself, is really nothing new.  Last August, I wrote this article about the city's Priority Green program. In it, DPD's Peter Dobrovolny (whose last name is almost as difficult as mine!) said many projects consider innovative ideas but drop them when they realize how much extra time it will take under city code. However, having the problems and possible solutions written down in an actual report - well that is new.

However, the report. Is. Huge. If you dare to read it, click here . It manages to be very

The Rubik's Cube of codes
comprehensive and vague at the same time. It is comprehensive in that it studies code barriers across the country, identifies problems and makes recommendations. But because it is dealing with national issues, some of the solutions are vague in their range. For example, one solution is to "identify and address regulatory impediments to green building and development" while another is to "create incentives matched with desired goals."

I spoke with one of the study's primary authors, David Eisenberg of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology, this week. Essentially, he said codes are built incorrectly in that they are hundreds of ad hoc responses to problems. Codes, he said, should instead be built comprehensively to support a specific kind of development or project. Basically, he said the entire system needs to be rebuilt.


In Seattle, it can take months or years for changes (especially large ones) to occurr. Can you imagine what it would take to wipe out all the city departments responsible for allowing development to get built... and then to rework the system from scratch? 

Eisenberg said he realizes that what he's asking might be impossible. But even if it is impossible, by voicing the idea, he hopes to get people talking about it. Everyone - he said - whether it's greenies or permitting people or anyone really - wants healthy buildings. And our current code system does not encourage healthy buildings because it pawns risks relating to climate change and environmental degradation off on future generations.

What do you think about all of this, dear readers? Is there any possibility that our overall codes could be reworked and if so, what would you want them to encourage? Here in Seattle (where we are pretty progressive in environmental issues, at least compared with some parts of the country) do we even need to be considering reworking the system or do we need to tweak it? If you could totally rework one code or issue, what would it be?

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Cascadia searching for new COO

Posted on June 12, 2009

Want a job? How about becoming chief operating officer for the largest regional green building nonprofit? Well, then this is your lucky month because the Cascadia Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council is hiring.

Cascadia is waiting for you! (image courtesy of Cascadia).

That's right. They're looking for a new COO as current COO Brandon Smith is moving to the position of vice president of business development.

The new COO will be based in either Portland or Seattle and will be in the post by August 1st. The deadline to apply for the job is June 30.

Cascadia is also searching for a new administrative assistant. This is a part time position of 20 hours per week. It will remain open until filled with a tentative start date of July 20.

For more information or to apply, visit Cascadia here.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter
Tagged as: , No Comments

Living Future, Day 2: new living building institute announced

Posted on May 7, 2009

This morning, the Cascadia Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council announced the birth of the International Living Building Institute. The institute will oversee the global development of the Living Building Challenge.

Cascadia launched the challenge, developed by Cascadia CEO Jason McLennan, three years ago. Since then, the idea has spread around the world with 60 proposed living buidlings in different stages of design or development in the U.S. and Canada. The furthest along of these is the Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, NY, which is nearing completion. A living building works like a natural system, is designed to go further than LEED platinum and must meet a rigorous set of requirements. For more info on it, click the living building tag below.

For the time being, Cascadia will continue to oversee the Living Building Challenge. But the institute is in the process of becoming a formal nonprofit, and will soon have its own board of directors.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Janine Benyus at Living Future: mimicking nature and how it will save the world

Posted on May 7, 2009

Some keynote speakers leave you satisfied, some leave you disappointed and some leave you angry that you just wasted two hours of your time. Then, there are keynote speakers like Janine Benyus that leave you wanting more.


Benyus spoke last night at the Living Future Conference in Portland. Her talk was warm, personal, funny

and informative. Having never heard Benyus speak before, I now understand why she's considered such a big deal. The talk was pretty amazing.

Janine Benyus


The talk began with Sam Adams, Portland’s mayor (who is funny!!!), welcoming people to Portland. He was pretty straightforward about the general fear that you can’t make any money being green. Not true, he said: “If you take nothing else away from your trip to Portland, take this away: you can make money being very, very green.” Portland, he said, keeps millions in its economy because of its public transportation and green business.


Jason McLennan, Cascadia’s CEO then glowingly introduced Benyus, saying “I think you’re one of the most important figures in the planet today, period… I think you represent our species really well.” Not every day you hear that!


Then Benyus took the stage. She said the uncertainty in today's financial markets can be used to the benefit of biomimicry, building design and creating a better world. When cultural certainties disappear, she said, so does arrogance. She said the recession is creating a similar attitude that happened after the World Trade Center attacks – where “the world is open to listening to the next question ... As long as they’re listening, let’s make the vision as big as we can."


What can we learn fro, this luna moth?


In this same vein, she said building models for a place can be created by looking at how natural organisms in a location treat things like fire, wind etc. “Our buildings could have general organisms as their models.”


Benyus said she hopes we will be able to fly over cities in the future, and have them be functionally indistinguishable from the natural environment. That, she said, would be sustainability.


Benyus also plugged a tool she has been working on for the past year called The tool, she said, allows designers to ask how nature would fix a problem and learn from it. She also discussed how future areas of technology can be inspired by animal organisms. She and Paul Hawken, for example, are working on a new solar cell that is inspired by photosynthesis.


But in the end, she said, new technology or new laws aren't going to save us from ourselves. She said the only thing that can save us is "a change of heart and a change of stance towards the rest of the world."

These are just a few of the items she discussed. For more, stay tuned to a future story in the DJC. If you attended the talk, please comment below and tell me what you thought of it – or what you’ve thought about Benyus’ previous talks. If you didn’t attend the talk, I'd love to hear your comments. Is mimicking nature the future of building? How important is it compared to meeting netzero energy or netting zero water?

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

LEED vs. Green Globes – watch our state duke it out

Posted on February 19, 2009

In today's marketplace, so many things claim to be "green" that it can be really, really tough to decipher what's green and what's greenwashing. Sometimes, green measures even conflict with each other.

Apparently, that's the case with LEED and Green Globes, at least in Washington State. Green Globes,

Green certifications duke it out!
administered in the U.S. by the Green Building Initiative, is a green building certification that I have only come across a few times in my travels. LEED is by far and without question the more prominent certification of the two.

However, LEED's prominence is due in large part to its inclusion in state and city government incentives and requirements. For example, Washington State requires major buildings meet LEED silver or higher to receive public funding. Seattle requires developers meet at least LEED silver to receive a density bonus. Those requirements have gone a long way towards making Washington a leader in its number of LEED certified buildings, and LEED projects on the board.

Senate Bill 5384 would change the state mandated requirements by adding the Green Globes standard as an alternative to LEED silver.

Now, it might surprise some to learn that Cascadia, the region's go-to organization for green building, is lobbying hard against this. But then again Cascadia is part of the U.S. Green Building Council and the U.S. Green Building Council created LEED, so it stands to reason that it would support LEED certification. The bill is also opposed by the Washington Environmental Council and the Washington Conservation Voters, which represents many different environmental organization statewide.

An advocacy e-mail appeared in my in-box today asking readers to call state legislators to make sure

A truly green globe
Green Globes is not included in state law as an alternative to LEED. The e-mail says "Green Globes was created by the timber and chemical lobbies as a much weaker alternative to LEED," and that it is untested, funded by industry and requires no third party verification. 

I don't know enough about Green Globes to report on whether any of the above allegations are true. I know board members of GBI represent a number of different interests from universities to business. I know a number of industry organizations heavily support their initiatives (though to be fair, industry also supports USGBC).

I also know the actual bill, available here, has a piece in it stating all major projects receiving state funds that are four stories or under must use wood and wood products as building materials in them. Not sure how that fits into the point of the bill and it seems a little odd to me but make of it what you will.

If you're interested in this topic, Architect Online has an excellent rundown of the two systems by Christopher Swope here that I highly suggest reading. Swope points out that LEED could benefit from a bit of competition.

For still more information, visit GreenbuildingsNYC here.

What do you think? Is LEED too restrictive and is Green Globes the way to go? Is Green Globes a less strict certification? Weigh in by commenting below!

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter