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March 24, 2022

Preparing for Ship Lofts: A successful Living Building project requires all hands on deck

  • Living Building must be treated like an organism with all its components existing in a symbiotic relationship.
    Schuchart Construction

    Image from David Grieshaber [enlarge]
    Designed to abstractly resemble a large ship, the distinct shape of Ship Lofts will honor Tacoma’s rich maritime history while creating an iconic building along the Thea Foss Waterway.

    Image from International Living Future Institute
    Full Living Building Challenge certification requires a project to meet imperatives across seven focus areas, with at least 12 consecutive months of verified performance.

    The Living Building Challenge was established to push developers, architects, and contractors to redefine our approach to green building standards and think critically about how the projects we design and construct can have a positive impact on the natural environment. The program is a proven framework to accurately measure sustainability in the built environment and presents the world's most rigorous performance standards for buildings.

    To achieve full Living Building Challenge certification, a project must meet all imperatives applicable to their building type across seven focus areas, demonstrated through verified performance after at least 12 consecutive months of operation.

    Since our initial work on the Bullitt Center and the Living Building Challenge certified projects that have followed, Schuchart has had the opportunity to collaborate on some of the most eco-friendly developments in the region, and we've navigated the challenges that accompany such aspirational sustainability goals. With strict performance requirements and the highest sustainability metrics, how do you set a project pursuing Living Building Challenge certification up for success? You need a truly integrated design approach, an ambitious vision, and a team you can trust to support and deliver it.


    As the name implies, a Living Building must be treated like an organism with all its components existing in a symbiotic relationship. When you make changes to one aspect it affects and influences the others; a decision about the type of glazing used could impact the building's ability to retain heat, which may require a reevaluation of the mechanical system to ensure energy efficiency is still being met. Familiarity with performance requirements is necessary, but having a deep understanding of how design and construction decisions affect those requirements is imperative. Acknowledging this relationship is a foundational element of any successful Living Building project.


    Just as the components of a Living Building project are integrated, your approach must be integrated as well. You need a team that is present and on board from the outset, that will work together to find holistic solutions that address multiple issues at the same time. Coordinating across all disciplines well before the project breaks ground is key.


    Behind every Living Building Challenge project is a great visionary; someone who isn't hampered by traditional project constraints and who isn't resigned to how things have always been done. Instead, they are focused on the end goal, with an unwavering commitment to achieving something remarkable through sustainable, performance-based design and construction. And this visionary can't do it alone; they need a reliable team that shares their enthusiasm and fuels their vision.

    The Living Building Challenge certification process is not a prescribed checklist of green building best practices; rather, it provides a series of performance goals that must be met. As a result, project teams are inspired — and empowered — to explore the most creative solutions to achieve these sustainability metrics. The right team will strike a balance between practicality and high-performance building requirements, while still embracing the intangible aspects of a project that aim to improve how the built environment integrates with nature. They must take a philosophical approach that is different compared to other projects. Nothing is typical, nothing is assumed, and anything is possible. Every decision should support the best interest of the project and a commitment to protect the natural environment and promote sustainable communities.


    The vision for Ship Lofts was born from developer David Grieshaber's desire to answer one question: How can we combine an eco-friendly lifestyle, luxury live/work condos, and a uniquely shaped property to change the dialogue between the built and natural environments? It's a lofty goal. But that's the point.

    Designed to abstractly resemble a large ship, the project's distinct shape will honor Tacoma's rich maritime history while creating an iconic building to showcase David's vision. Ship Lofts is pursuing full Living Building Challenge certification and will leverage its high-traffic location along the Thea Foss Waterway to promote Living Building principles and the importance of environmental stewardship. It will set a new bar for multifamily green building practices, and present an opportunity to reestablish what a mixed-use residential building can be.

    Schuchart's Ground Up Division has successfully brought thousands of multifamily units to market throughout the region. While there are multiple considerations when planning these types of buildings, design and construction are ultimately driven by what people demand in a living environment. And while Ship Lofts will need to respond to what residents want in their living space, David will use the project to demonstrate that you can have a high-end lifestyle while still being environmentally conscious. Just like the Bullitt Center set in motion a shift in priorities and a demand for more sustainable commercial office buildings, Ship Lofts will further move the needle on how society prioritizes an eco-friendly lifestyle.

    “Architecture and design can be a vehicle for change,” David said. “Ship Lofts is positioning itself to be a game-changer for the Tacoma landscape, leading with maximum sustainability and efficiencies. It should encourage others to take the bold move to push the boundaries of development projects moving forward.”

    David's mission is clear. He wants to inspire project teams to change how they approach the design and construction of multifamily buildings by inspiring people to shift their mindset around what they value in their living environment, and Ship Lofts is the next step in getting there.


    Designing and constructing a mixed-use, multifamily project to achieve Living Building certification comes with a distinct set of challenges. Energy loads between living and working spaces are different. Unlike a commercial building with consistent and predictable operating hours, there are more variables when it comes to residential water and energy consumption. Thermal efficiency and wastewater systems need to take 24-hour occupancy into consideration. And this all has to be solved within a rigorous sustainability framework.

    Currently, there are a limited number of multifamily developments that are fully Living Building certified, which means the amount of proven performance data for this project type is limited as well. Solving for these performance measures while delivering such an ambitious vision will be challenging, and it might take us a few tries to find the best path forward. The Ship Lofts team was assembled around our shared experience and commitment to promoting design and construction practices that contribute to a healthier, more sustainable future. We are problem solvers. We are champions of sustainability. And we are fueling a visionary.

    In our next article, we'll dive into the Living Building Challenge's Red List and how materials are scrutinized and approved for use, and how CLT and mass timber products can be efficient, sustainable solutions to achieve certification requirements.

    Learn more about the Ship Lofts project at https://shiplofts.com/

    Eric Petersen leads the Ground Up Division at Schuchart, overseeing the company's new building projects throughout the Puget Sound region.

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