Miller Hull

Solar in Seattle? Experts said ‘no way.’ Bullitt Center proved them wrong.

4-24-2023 | News

By   –  Senior Reporter, Puget Sound Business Journal

With views and copious amounts of daylight, this “irresistible stairway” at the Bullitt Center in Seattle was designed to draw building occupants away from using power-sucking elevators. On this Earth Day, the project developer says the performance of the 10-year-old building proves net-positive buildings are possible anywhere.

In its first 10 years the Bullitt Center generated nearly 30% more energy from its rooftop solar energy than it has used, according to the developer.

Since opening on Earth Day 2013, it has shown indisputably that net-positive-energy buildings are possible anywhere, said Denis Hayes, CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, which has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in grants since 1992.

Built to show what’s possible, the center has done that by inspiring similar projects and hosting heads of state and many real estate developers, including the head of the world’s largest home builder, Vanke China.

Wang Shi, Vanke’s founder, said in a statement that the Bullitt Center changed his perception about what was possible to achieve in a building.

“When I first visited the project, my mind was spinning with new ideas about how to refine our residential development projects in China,” Wang said.

Hayes, a principal organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970, said the problem is the overall building industry’s lack of wide-scale change.

“While I am thrilled with the way the Bullitt Center has performed, I am deeply saddened by the lack of progress in buildings overall,” Hayes said in a press release. “Despite obvious signs of climate change everywhere, we continue to race towards a cliff.”

“We were told point blank by seven well-respected developers that a six-story office powered entirely by the sun was impossible in Seattle,” said Hayes. Over 10 years, the center has generated over 2.47 million kilowatt-hours of energy, or nearly 551,500 kWh more than the building and its occupants used. The average Seattle house uses 13,376 kWh annually.

In addition, the 52,000-square-foot building collects and treats rainwater for all purposes, including drinking. As a result, it has also operated as net positive for water over its first decade as well. In other words, the building has created more clean, drinkable water than it has used.

The rainwater-to-potable water system offers a model of resilience and represents a strategy to manage stormwater for cities to consider, center official said.

Named the world’s greenest commercial building by World Architecture News in 2013, the Bullitt Center’s energy use intensity, which measures energy per square foot per year, is 16. According to the center, that’s 86% less than the average U.S. office building’s EUI.

Designed by The Miller Hull Partnership of Seattle and built by another local company, Schuchart, the center cost $30 million, or $600 a square foot, the center told the Business Journal in 2014. At the time, it cost around $430 a square foot to develop an office building in downtown Seattle.

Owned by the Bullitt Foundation, the center is a market-rate commercial office building with 90% of the space leased to commercial enterprises.

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