All eyes were on the Bullitt Center when it opened—auspiciously on Earth Day, April 22, 2013. Mainstream and design media worldwide speculated on the promise of the compact six-story structure, in Seattle, topped by a crown of solar panels. It was “a milestone building—one of the most important commercial buildings of the last 50 years,” says Alex Wilson, the building-performance guru and founding editor of BuildingGreen.com.
All that publicity was a double-edged sword, of course. If the Bullitt Center was a success, it would be hailed as a model for net-zero design and construction. But if it failed, there would be nowhere to hide.
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A sigh of relief came in April 2015, when the Bullitt Center achieved the status of Living Building, as certified by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). A Living Building must adhere to 20 design imperatives in seven performance areas—site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty—and be both net-zero energy and net-zero water for 12 months of occupancy. Only 10 other buildings in the world have achieved Living Building status. “That’s a significant achievement for a six-story, Class A office building,” Wilson says. “Particularly in one of the most challenging climates in the country for solar energy.”
Sure enough, when I visited the Bullitt Center this October, the day could be described—at best—as cold, drizzly, and overcast. How was it that this building could rely on the sun for its energy?