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.

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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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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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King County develops new, green ‘EcoCribz’ video series

Posted on October 21, 2010

Yesterday, King County launched a video series called 'EcoCribz.' The series follows one family as they green-remodel their house and aims to teach viewers - you and I - valuable lessons while aiming us towards other green remodeling resources.

The first video, available here, profiles the Bangs family and their Issaquah home. It's a fun tour that

Image courtesy King County
documents the family's goal to create a more energy efficient home with better air quality.

Patti Southard, project manager for King County's GreenTools Program and host of the series, said King County wanted to show people that green home remodeling creates healthy, comfortable spaces that can save money, increase home value and help protect the environment. The county also created helpful remodel tips for renters who are looking at paint and interior options like area rugs and eco-friendly bedding.

The series also illustrates how homeowners can use the county's Eco-Cool Remodel Tool, another useful resource. Basically, it's trying to get you to think about your choices before you remodel or build to create a greener space.

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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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2009 was green consultant’s “best year ever”

Posted on February 5, 2010

The other day, I was talking with Pam Worner, top dog at Green Dog Enterprises (yes, that's her official title) about a new green house project. When Pam just about shocked me out of my chair with the following sentence: "We had the best year ever last year but not without a lot of anxiety." That's right; 2009 was her company's best year ever.

First, some history. Green Dog Enterprises is a consulting firm that has been around for four years. It "promotes

Pam Worner
green construction practices and helps businesses succeed in the green building market." It has three employees, including Worner, the business' founder.

She has worked on a number of cool projects, many of which are listed here.

To survive this past year, Green Dog did a number of key things. First, it didn't turn down any job and expanded the kind of work it did. It did consulting, marketing, verification and worked in niches that weren't being filled. Second, it spread out geographically to areas that green building consultants don't always concentrate on. Areas like Pierce, Thurston, San Juan and Jefferson counties. Third, it cut overhead and moved into an office in Worner's house.

In other words, Green Dog worked with 50 different clients in 2009. That's up 50 percent from the year before, Worner said.

Worner said a lot of her growth came from areas outside of King County. In King County, she said, "you probably can't swing a cat without hitting some sort of green building expert." But those experts don't always go to neighboring areas where demand for green systems and projects are also growing exponentially.

Still, there was a lot of anxiety about surviving. But for every one thing that disappeared, another two things reappeared, Worner said.

Worner only works with green projects and attributes her success in the past year to that work. She said she knows of several builders who say that it is the green focus that has kept them competitive during the downturn.

Moving forward, Worner is confident she can continue her momentum. "This will be an even better year."

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Local team does deconstruction Extreme Home Makeover style

Posted on November 19, 2009

If I were to take a poll, I bet that nine out of 10 people have seen at least one episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (commonly called ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover). I have now worked on two episodes and the most recent one was the first time ever in seven seasons that they have allowed a group to completely disassemble a home to the ground. I was asked to fly out and help deconstruct a 2,700-square-foot, two-story home in 15 hours, and that is exactly what we did.

Crews gather to re-make a home!
I won’t spoil the show by giving out details, but I can say that it opened the door to reusing materials in the new building and in the surrounding neighborhood. That my friends, is exactly what Extreme Home Makeover did! They immediately found ways to incorporate the materials in their plans and much of the lumber will never be more than a block away from the property. It is true that the show has its critics. Many of them complain to me that it glorifies demolition. If I had a TV, I would watch the show on a regular basis, but the few episodes I have seen do make demolition look ‘fun’.

Hopefully, we have opened the door for them on alternatives to demolition. Each show I watch seems to have a growing focus on green building and this might be the next step for them. Given the tight timeframe allowed for demolition and site work until now, they really haven’t had a choice. Our industry offered them no solutions given their extreme situation. For me, this is all part of the path toward making green building a mainstream choice, systematically pursuing projects that we couldn’t touch years ago, until we become an option for anyone interested. Over the last 16+ years working in the green building field, I have realized that my work consists of one part natural resource conservation, one part reduced energy demand and two parts basically helping people. This is the path of Extreme Home Makeover, so keep watching and encouraging them to raise the bar higher, because that is exactly, what I plan to do.

A picture of the home\'s foundation

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Ashworth Cottages: how much of a premium will people pay for green?

Posted on October 16, 2009

In case you missed it, I wrote a story in yesterday's DJC about how Intracorp Marketing & Sales had been hired by Bank of America to finish and sell the remaining 17 properties at Ashworth Cottages. Ashworth Cottages, Seattle's first LEED platinum housing project, went into foreclosure in August.

Last May, I wrote a post about what went wrong at Ashworth here and it has been one of my most popular

Image courtesy Intracorp
posts ever since. Most commenters said the prime problem was houses were simply priced too high. Judging by how they're being snapped up now, you were right.

When the homes came on the market, they were priced between $739,000 and $950,000. Today, they are priced between $399,000 and $649,000. Of the original 20 homes, 17 went into foreclosure. Since those 17 homes went on the market in a soft opening last week, eight of them have received purchase and sale agreements as of Wednesday, according to Jeff Smallwood of Intracorp.

In the article, I reference a few of your comments that said the price point was too high, even if they were LEED platinum. I wish I could have referenced more comments; they were so varied and insightful.

Today, Smallwood said the homes are probably selling at a little below market value and that the LEED features are mentioned by every buyer so far. But what does this say about green, expensive projects? While Ashworth is the prime example because it has had such a public story told, it's not the only one. A number of super green expensive projects - haven't sold. Or are being used for different purposes by the developer.

In my original Ashworth post, Anne Whitacre had a great comment that developers may expect green buyers to pay more because their utility bills will be lower over the life of a building. But if people don't expect to stay in a building for years, then they can't really take that value into account. This is why institutions, schools and nonprofits are often more likely than private developers to jump on the green bandwagon.

A few other commenters said they had been excited and interested in Ashworth but the price tag was just too much. How much of a premium would you pay for a super green house? Five percent? Ten percent? Nothing?

Similarly, if my price range is $950,000 I have a lot of options.  I could buy a great, old house with a lot of character for $650,000 (especially in today's market) and then spend $300,000 rehabbing it with super green features. For that much money, I could make a lot of green improvements that were functional and tailored to what I wanted AND I would be saving and improving an old structure, rather than sending whatever originally existed to the dump. Even if you recycle the majority of your construction waste, some of it still ends up being tossed.

A number of green builders believe that the market is ready to pay more for green projects and a number of studies support this to different variations. (There's this study on local green certified homes, this study on national commercial buildings and this one on four local examples).

But in today's economy, where is the line drawn? How much more are people willing to pay if they're willing to pay more at all? And would this be a different situation in a better economy?

I'd love to hear your thoughts, your response to Ashworth's situation and anything you know about other high priced green projects that haven't sold or have been in a similar situation.

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Ashworth Cottages – what went wrong?

Posted on May 18, 2009

In today's edition of The Seattle Times, Eric Pryne examines how the recession is affecting Seattle's premier Green Lake neighborhood. For the most part, the article focuses on apartment and condo complexes. But it also mentions that Pryde Johnson's LEED platinum Ashworth Cottages is in the process of foreclosure.

According to the article, only two of the 20 homes have sold though it also mentions that another four of the houses are in various stages of possible sale.

Of course, the obvious reason for the project's current state is the economy. But

Curt Pryde and Fawn Johnson at the grand opening of Ashworth Cottages in August, 2007
Ashworth Cottages came on the market in the summer of 2007 - before the economy really tanked. So my question is why is it where it is today?

First, some background: Ashworth Cottages opened to a lot of media attention. They were the first LEED platinum residential project in the state (seventh in the country), and thus received a press conference attended by Mayor Greg Nickels. The 20 cottages are on a lot originally zoned for six houses. To get it rezoned for 20, Pryde Johnson waited an extra 6 months, and had to get it approved by Seattle City Council.  I wrote an article about the project's grand opening. It's available here.

At the time, Curt Pryde and Fawn Johnson said they were confident Seattle buyers would appreciate the quality and health benefits of the platinum projects and pay between $739,000 and $950,000 for the ultimate green two-to- four-bedroom home. Apparently, that has not been the case.

But why?

The interior of an Ashworth Cottage, August 2007

I live on the other side of Green Lake - and what many people would say is the more expensive and disireable side. Even in this recession, houses around me are for the most part being snapped up. Sure, they might be on the market longer than usual but it seems like they're still selling. Heck, even a gross ex-college party house I toured with rooms that smelled of urine sold for a pretty good price. If Ashworth Cottages were on the other side of the lake, would they have sold? Is it location, location, location?

By the way, you dear readers, have voted Ballard/Fremont the greenest neighborhood in my poll at right, followed by Capitol Hill, followed by Green Lake/ Wallingford. Maybe this project would have done better in a different neighborhood?

Maybe it's a question of what people want for their $750,000. The Ashworth Cottages are very quaint but they don't really have yards (the argument here is that Green Lake is basically a person's yard). At the July 2007 grand opening, they were touted as a model example of what the city should be striving for in density. But could it be that people want more space for their money and don't really want to spend $750k for "the model" of dense living?

Or is it the elephant in the room .... that people just do not put that high a price on green features yet and aren't willing to pay a premium for them?

Was it the recession after all?  What do you think the problem was? If you had $750k, is this the house you would spend it on? Comment below and tell me what you're thinking.....

By the way, the project's Web site now says homes begin in the mid-$500s.

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