In the United States, buildings are responsible for 39% of carbon dioxide emissions, 65% of waste and 70% of electricity consumption. This data is applicable to many countries around the world and seriously affects the environment as well as some of the population’s access to natural resources. This reality, however, does not match the technological advances currently available to build in a more sustainable manner.
The question that often arises is whether the construction of energy-efficient buildings in our towns and cities depends on the will to build sustainably or whether it is limited by the heavy initial investment, which make them a utopic or unprofitable proposition. In the American city of Seattle, the Bullitt Centre is a building which answers this question by being the most energy-efficient building in the world.
The building was erected three years ago by the Bullitt Foundation, an organisation dedicated to promoting environmental sustainability and whose president, Denis Hayes, was one of the driving forces behind Earth Day. The building was designed by the Miller Hull Partnership firm of architects.
The Bullitt Center has 50,000 square metres of space distributed across 6 storeys. The construction cost 30 million dollars, a third more than a normal building would, but over 350 materials were used which are not harmful either to human health or the environment and it is 99% self-sufficient in terms of energy, which has earned it the prestigious Living Building certificate.
Explanatory video about the project.
The building obtains all the energy it needs from the solar panels installed on the roof, which generate 230,000 kilowatt hours per year. It is designed so that the people working there can benefit from natural daylight for 92% of the working day; the large windows open and close automatically depending on the weather; the heating system has 26 geothermal wells; the bathrooms work with a composting system so that flushing the toilet only requires two tablespoons of water as they work with organic soap; and rainwater is stored in and supplied from a tank with a capacity of 56,000 litres which is housed in the basement – enough to cope with 3 months of drought.
The building is an example of how urban areas can be influenced positively through the design of sustainable and highly attractive architectural projects. The aim of the promoters was to demonstrate that this intelligent way of building is profitable and to inspire other construction professionals to plan buildings that are more rational and beneficial for everyone. To this end, and to avoid having to repeat arduous tasks unnecessarily, such as identifying which materials are toxic and which are not, the Bullitt Centre team has documented everything they learned during the construction process and have made this knowledge available to other professionals in the sector. In addition, the ground floor houses the UW-Centre for Integrated Design, a space which serves as a learning lab for green design and energy efficiency. As they explain on their website: “The first Prius cost more than the 10,000th. But before you can build the 10,000th of anything, you need to build the first.”
The conscientiousness regarding sustainability which has made the Bullitt Centre possible is also disseminated among the office workers: a system has been developed whereby they can consult the amount of energy and water consumed in real time.
All the images in the article have been extracted from the Bullitt Centre website.