Recently, I have been a part of several sustainability conversations that have mentioned the Bullitt Center development in Seattle, WA. The Bullitt Center’s website proclaims, “The greenest commercial building in the world.” The site hopes to achieve a Living Building certification from the International Living Building Institute. In order to gain this certification, the building must be self-sufficient for water and energy for a continuous 12-month period. In order to reach this goal, the Bullitt Center will trap rainwater, employ rooftop photovoltaic cells, utilize geothermal wells and integrate automatic windows for natural air circulation. There are key universal lessons from this project, especially that “all sustainability is local.”
The Seattle Times newspaper published the article, “The Bullitt Building Follows Nature’s Lead in Elegant Efficiency.”  In the article, contributor Lawrence Cheek discusses the building as a living organism. The article discusses “biomimicry” and “biophilia.” Cheek defines biomimicry as “studying the processes of nature, observing the solutions that have been worked out through evolution, and then applying them to the products of industry and civilization.” Cheek defines biophilia as “the natural human tendency, wired into us through eons of living in direct interaction with nature, to be attracted to the forms and processes of nature.” All of this echoes the maxim from the acclaimed book, Cradle to Cradle, that “all sustainability is local.” The Bullitt Center echoes this lesson by adapting sustainable technologies to fit the local environmental factors that exist at the building site.
Often in sustainability discussions there is a sense that one technology will be a panacea for our energy needs. Clearly, a solution that is appropriate for a building in arid and hot Phoenix, AZ would not fit the needs of a building in coastal and temperate Seattle, WA. Having grown up in Seattle, my personal hypothesis is that the rain-catchers may be more of an asset for the building than the solar panels… but thankfully they also accommodated the energy needs with geothermal wells. The Bullitt Center’s 14,300 square feet of photovoltaic cells biomimic a tree’s canopy. This lesson from nature is a great example of maximizing energy productivity by mimicking evolution’s design for maximizing photosynthesis.
If the Bullitt Center is any indicator of the building trends of the future, then we will see more thoughtful and creative solutions to meet energy needs and minimize waste. This new level of sustainability engages biomimicry and biophilic design while incorporating local environmental advantages.
Tom Bobo is currently pursuing an MBA and a Master of Science in Real Estate at the University of San Diego. Tom is an official curator for the MIPIM World Blog Sustainability and Innovation industry news section.
Image credit : Photobank gallery