DJC Green Building Blog

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

Rendering_Brooks
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

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.
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

Skanska’s Seattle development division bodes well for sustainability

Posted on January 21, 2011

One of the hottest real estate stories of the week is the news that Skanska is bringing its commercial development division to Seattle, signifying it sees growth in the regional market.

My colleague at the DJC, Benjamin Minnick, reported the news here. In the story, he reports that

The Grunwaldzki Center in Wroclaw, Poland, uses 30 percent less energy than Polish code requires. Image courtesy Skanska
Lisa Picard has been hired as executive vice president to lead the local development division. "The fundamentals in Seattle are great," she said.

The move is especially notable because Skanska will self-finance all its projects and says it won't necessarily develop projects owners are currently doing, such as apartments in today's times. Instead, the story says Skanska will look at the long term and what is a good buy now.

That's interesting obviously, because of the freedom Skanska has to build what it wants. But it also speaks to the potential for sustainable buildings.

Most developer's green goals are constrained by the cost of super green technologies. I've been told that green projects up to around LEED gold can be done at cost if you begin early. But if you want to go for the super green stuff - net zero energy, Living Building certification, fancy new technologies - there's still a hefty premium, even if there's a huge benefit.

According to the story, Skanska has already said all its projects built locally will meet LEED gold or higher standards, and will be located in urban core areas with strong employment growth. To read the company's sustainability policy, click here (beware- it's pretty overwhelming).

By self-financing its own projects, Skanska, already a leading green general contractor, has the opportunity to do some really incredible things. Additionally, if they plan to hold onto projects for a long time, rather than flip them, they have more of an incentive to invest in green technologies that only pay off over the long term.

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.

If projects were self-financed and held onto for a longer amount of time, do you think we'd end up with a larger quantity of super green buildings? Or do you think teams would stick to the status quo?

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

Want to watch a modular house get put together?

Posted on December 2, 2010

On Dec. 7, Greenfab's first modular project will be put together in Seattle's Jackson Place neighborhood and they are inviting you to come. Interested? Show up at 1827 South Lane Street near Boren Ave South and Rainier Avenue from 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Transported via truck from an Idaho factory, six boxes measuring 12 feet wide, 20 feet long and 16

Will this module become a home? image courtesy GreenFab
feet high will be installed by crane onto the foundation forming the team's prefab demonstration home. Once complete, the 1,790-square-foot house will have three bedrooms and 2.75 baths. The project is targeting LEED platinum certification.

GreenFab has done a great job documenting their process with the home to date. They've got videos documenting everything from site excavation to the foundation pour. Check them out here.

For more on GreenFab, read this earlier post or see the full-length DJC story here.

*If you plan on attending, note that South Lane Street will be closed. Visitors can park on nearby streets.

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

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?
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

Party with Martha Rose tomorrow and Saturday!

Posted on January 28, 2010

Tomorrow and Saturday, Martha Rose (the "queen of green") will be hosting wine and cheese parties at her

Martha Rose at the development site
newest development, Fish Singer Place. The event features a behind the walls tour. It runs from 2-4 p.m. on Friday and from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. To attend, meet up at 15715 Dayton Ave. N., Shoreline Wa. 98133.

To watch a video about the project (with a really catchy song), click here. To learn more about the project, visit the project Web site here or click the tab 'green developers' below to learn more about this project.

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

Green developers and straw bale structures – let’s start 2010 off right!

Posted on January 6, 2010

I've had a few interesting articles in the DJC this week. If you're not a subscriber, you've been missing out!

First, an article published on Monday discussed what local green contractor Martha Rose had to do to get financing for her latest 4-home project. Turns out she had to fund part of the project herself and educate (many, many) bankers on just how sustainable a builder she is. (Rose believes in continually improving her green credentials. Her latest projects employs a number of Passive House techniques and is striving to be a net zero development). That story was carried by the AP - so anyone can read it, even if you don't have a subscription. The story is located here at The Tacoma News Tribune and here at The Seattle PI (who do you want to give your advertising dollars to?)

Second, an article I wrote appeared in yesterday's (Jan. 5) edition regarding the first straw bale structure in Seattle to receive a permit. The project was completed last fall and was built by the community via a number of different work parties. As part of my reporting, I visited the home addition, which has a bedroom in it. The space was beautiful but what struck me most about the space was how different it feels... it somehow seems more safe and secure than your stick built home (likely thanks to the walls that are around 20 inches thick!) It also is extremely, extremely quiet... and comforting.

Have you been in a straw bale house? What was your experience?

There were a number of photos I didn't get to include in the story so I'm including them below for your enjoyment:

An outside view of the edition
An inside view
A small window showing the staw behind the wall (and some cute, lil animals)
Architect Sage K. Saskill and home owner Brenda Abjour
Interior view of the window without people in it

Third, also in the Jan. 5 edition, I wrote a story about Art Stable, a new development in the Cascade neighborhood of South Lake Union. More on this later but the team is using an innovative combination geothermal and piling technique, which allows the system to make sense financially. Fun stuff!

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

The Stranger says Schuster Group makes layoffs, headquarters for sale

Posted on April 1, 2009

The Stranger reports that The Schuster Group is laying off staff and trying to sell its double-LEED-certified headquarters building in lower Queen Anne for $4 million.

An interior view of The Schuster Group\'s headquarters building
Dominic Holden's post quotes Scott Bevan, senior development manager of Schuster, saying, "The building is actually owned by one of our investment groups and part of our responsibility is to return money to our investors ... In order to return in that investment, we have got to sell the property."

In addition to Mosler Lofts, this building has been a very significant feather in the green developer's cap. It represented the company's commitment to green building, and was often cited as an example of what could be done in green development. 

Last June, I reported on the double LEED certification for existing buildings and interiors here. The building's improvements included daylighting 90 percent of the office space, installing daylight sensors control lighting, using rainwater barrels and a reflective roof.

In that story, Mark Schuster, founder and CEO of The Schuster Group, said, "We didn't just want to create an environmentally savvy building, we wanted to create an environmentally friendly atmosphere in which every tenant and employee has an active role in using green practices every day."

Schuster also spoke at a forum in February on how green development would be affected by the economy.  At that event, he said people in the green movement are going to have to be committed to jumpstarting green building once the economy comes back in a couple of years. To read the story, see the DJC 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

Study measures energy efficiency against economic feasibility

Posted on February 24, 2009

Earlier today, NAIOP national released a report that looks at the levels of energy efficiency a standard office building can achieve while remaining economically feasible.

The study looked at whether commercial development could achieve reduction

The Casey in Portland is designed to use 52 percent less energy than a similar, conventional building
The Casey in Portland is designed to use 52 percent less energy than a similar, conventional building

targets of between 30 and 50 percent above ASHRAE 90.1-2004. It compared results on a four-story, 95,000-square-foot, Class A office building in climate zones represented in Chicago, Baltimore and Newport Beach, Calif.

The results?

"Findings show that although significant energy efficiencies can be achieved (varying by climate zone), reaching a 30 percent reduction above the ASHRAE standard is not feasible using common design approaches and would exceed a 10-year payback. The study concluded that achieving a 50 percent reduction above the standard is not currently reachable."

Here is the breakdown:

Chicago had a 23 percent increase in energy savings at a $188,523 cost increase at an 8.8 year payback.

Baltimore had a 21.5 percent increase in energy efficiency at a $165,148 cost increase at an 11 year payback.

Newport Beach had a 15.8 percent increase in energy savings at a $169,898 additional cost at a 12.2 year payback.

Ouch. Those are long paybacks for most developers. But then again, developers ARE targeting these goals and reaching them. Heck, there are net-zero buildings under development! NAIOP's goal in developing this study was to prove that a one-size fits all approach does not work in green buildings, but that almost seems to holds true in countering the study, too. Though most of the developers who really push the green envelope, both in design and energy efficiency, are long-term holders of buildings.

Is that what it all comes down to? What a developer's business model is?

The study also said elements of a holistic, integrated design approach that could create higher energy efficiencies were impractical in the study's building prototype. The example the study gives is that a geothermal system requires an additional two acres of space, at least in the Newport Beach model.

To read the entire press release, go 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

Pictures of the green roof at Olive 8

Posted on January 8, 2009

The green roof at Seattle hotel-condo project Olive 8 is being installed this week. It is one of the largest green roofs in Seattle at 8,355 square feet.

The roof is actually two green roofs so the developer, R.C. Hedreen, can test out which system it likes best. Above the chillers there is a sod-based green roof. On the actual fourth floor ground level, there is a tray-based sedum system. There is a lasting argument between which one of these techniques is better, which I will discuss in a later post at greater detail. For more on this project, or to learn about R.C. Hedreen's conversion to being a green developer, read the story in the DJC here.

R.C. Hedreen is also considering a second green roof on the 39th floor of Olive 8, though if it pursues that option it will need to be sod-based as David Thyer, president of the company, said the city is afraid the green roof trays will blow away at such a great height.

On Tuesday, I was fortunate enough to see part of the tray installation. Here are photos I took of the process:

Trays on the ground

Workers pick up a tray...

And load the tray into a pattern

The green roof from behind

 

Both green roofs

A close up of the sod-based green roof

For more on Olive 8, see the official page here. To see more photos, visit Eco Friendly Mag 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