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November 29, 2012

Timber structure boosts Bullitt’s green cred

  • It's on track to receive the Forest Stewardship Council’s first commercial project certification in the U.S.


    Four years ago, Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation, introduced an incredible opportunity for our team to play a role in delivering the world’s first living office building.

    During the initial charrette with the project’s collaborators, the delivery of the Bullitt Foundation’s primary objectives illustrated very clearly to all of us that we were embarking upon an incredible journey. In addition to technical expertise, our team would need to possess a philosophy that aligned with the vision Denis outlined and the challenge set forth by the International Living Future Institute.

    The mechanical and electrical systems giving life to the Bullitt Center were produced early on as software-generated 3-D designs. The designs were assembled through the use of building-information modeling to represent what would later be the actual physical product.

    Photos by John Stamets [enlarge]
    Builders opted to use heavy timber for the structure rather than concrete or steel, allowing the use of a regionally sourced material.

    As the building design migrated from the screen to the manufacturing process and then to the installation, the properly coordinated design model enhanced productivity on site. The utilization of digital representations of our designs allowed for close coordination, all towards the final delivery of those systems in the building.

    Choosing a structure

    Our team evaluated various structural systems during the initial stages of pre-construction and reviewed potential systems for their embodied energy. We elected to utilize heavy timber for the structure of the building — a structure well suited for use as a commercial office, but one that can often be designed as concrete, steel or a combination of the two.

    The use of heavy timber for the structure offered the opportunity to deliver a building fabricated by utilizing regionally sourced material. This heavy timber structure consists of Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood components that have all been subjected to review by a third-party project certifier. In order to ensure the wood delivered to the project complied with the rigorous standards of the FSC, our team managed the chain of custody documentation for the supply of wood products on our project.

    The selection of an FSC-certified heavy timber structure, the strict management of the chain of custody documentation and the verification by a third-party certifier has our project on track to earn the first FSC project certification for a commercial building in the United States.

    Encouraging change

    “Lofty” hardly begins to describe the imperatives contained within the Living Building Challenge green-building certification program and the Bullitt Foundation’s vision.

    It is through those aspirations that our team found inspiration to participate in what has already become a transformational project. Our project team will help redefine sustainability for the built environment, which we hope will compel other project teams to aspire to similar benchmarks.

    In order to achieve the project goals, every member of the team must be able to comprehend the philosophy in which the goals are rooted. At the outset of the project, the Living Building Challenge was relatively new to us, and we knew that as we completed our team of subcontractors and suppliers that we would encounter similar naivete in their respective companies.

    The wood components were certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and reviewed by a third-party certifier.

    In recognition of the fact that a building team is incomplete without strong subcontractors and suppliers, we needed to be an educator in order to successfully engage a complete team. The attributes of our project team lend themselves well to embracing the challenge and motivating others to do the same.

    One of the imperatives of the Living Building Challenge is for project teams to share successful solutions and motivate others to change. A request like this is less common in our industry, and as a result, the benefits of a learning experience can be stymied at the project level.

    The aim of this imperative is to share the wealth of knowledge gained by project teams as they take on these ambitious initiatives, helping to reduce the barriers that may impede the progress of the next project team. As a builder, it is important that we capture the learning opportunities in the projects we participate in, but we must also recognize that our clients share these specific opportunities with us.

    Projects like the Bullitt Center allow us unique opportunities to gain insights we can use to enhance our delivery process in the marketplace.

    Casey Schuchart is project manager at Schuchart, general contractor for the Bullitt Center.

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