When it opens in Capitol Hill on Earth Day, the Bullitt Center will be the most energy-efficient office building in the world. Denis Hayes, president and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, which will call the six-story space home, gives us an early look at some of its greenest features.  



To design the space at the corner of Madison and Pike, architects from the Miller Hull Partnership started with a number: 242,000 kilowatt hours, or the amount of energy a solar array on that site could generate in one year. Then they worked backward, designing a six-story, arrowhead-shaped building that over the course of a year would use no more power than it produced.   



Hayes declared early on that he wanted an “irresistible stairway,” and that request became a design principle. Rather than being stuck in a dank enclosed space, the extra-wide stairs rise in a fully glassed-in enclosure on the northeast corner of the building that looks out toward Lake Union. With views this good, why would anyone take the elevator? 



Once inside the building, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in a log cabin—or maybe even a tree house. Virtually every wall and ceiling is framed with laminated timbers called glulams, which are basically strips of wood glued together, layer cake–style. Not only do they look good and reduce waste—glulams can be made to exacting specifications—but their fabrication produces virtually no CO2, unlike the more common building material cement.



Heads up. If someone offers you water, know that it came from the roof. Pending approval from the city, county, and state, every drop used in the building—from showers to toilets to sinks—will be harvested on site. But don’t worry. After collecting in a 50,000-gallon cistern in the basement, it’ll pass through three filters, an ultraviolet treatment, and a chlorinator. The process is so thorough, some minerals will be added back for taste.  



Rather than a standard HVAC system, the Bullitt Center relies on radiant heat. A nontoxic fluid circulates through the more than two dozen 400-foot-deep wells beneath the building, where it heats up. That heat is extracted and used to warm water which flows through the building via a series of pipes in the floors. Says Hayes, fittingly, “It looks like the root system of a tree.”



Published: April 2013

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