The plenary session for the Architectural Institute of British Columbia's "Shifting Perspectives" conference, held from Oct. 8-10 in Vancouver, looked at the design and construction of the Bullitt Center in Seattle.
The panel discussion was made up of architect Brian Court, developer Joseph David and project builder Casey Schuchart and was moderated by Jean-Pierre Mahe.
The Bullitt Center opened last year and its stated goal is to drive innovation forward in terms of sustainability.
Mahe said the Bullitt Center "exemplifies in building, and now in occupancy and use, an attempt to counter the effects of climate change."
Dennis Hayes is the founder of Earth Day and president of the Bullitt Foundation.
It was his vision, the panel said, that the contemporary office building could be climate neutral.
The most challenging aspect of the project was carrying capacity of the site and it was necessary to overhang solar panels in order to get enough power for the building to function, Court said.
"Everything is being used to hit net-zero goals," he said.
The set-backs also provided an opportunity for a green roof, he said.
"A lot of things we wanted to do when we started were illegal," Court said, and he praised those who lobbied to change regulations so the building could be built to the right environmental standards.
Timber was used whenever possible, he said.
"We still need steel and concrete, but timber gives enormous environmental benefits," Court said.
Developer Joe David (Point 32) said regulatory changes were what supported development of the building.
"The project was about taking a quantum leap forward for green building, both for this and future projects," he said.
As a pilot for a living building, the team was allowed departures from the current land-use code to meet performance objectives.
There were revisions to the current right of way policy to allow for renewable energy awnings, which extend past the current standard.
Car-free living was another goal of the building, David said, which allowed for building without having to allocate parking space.
Rainwater harvesting was a regulatory challenge, he said, because homeowners can choose to drink rainwater or well water, but for a commercial building the rules are different.
The building had to be permitted as one would a rural water provider, so they could provide potable water from an on-site rain catchment.
The process is still taking place, and David anticipated sometime next year the building will disconnect from the city of Seattle's water supply.
The total cost of the project was $30 million, and with declines in cost of solar and water treatment, the price of similar buildings will decline, David said.
General contractor Casey Schuchart said his role in the project was as project manager, He said this project points to a new role for construction and for the general contractor.
Pre-fabrication allowed for moving components into a downtown Seattle environment with minimal disruption, he said.
Materials sourcing was also different from traditional models, Schuchart said.
Instead of sourcing raw materials that were then processed, specifications were taken from the designers and developers to sub contractors, who would then find appropriate materials.