Bertschi Living Building Science Wing

Bertschi Living Building Science Wing

Bertschi School Living Science Building, located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill Neighborhood, was one of the first projects in the world to pursue the Living Building Challenge v2.0 criteria and the first to achieve it. This non‐profit elementary school science wing was collaboratively designed with the students’ input and pro‐bono by the entire design team.

A 20‐kilowatt PV system produces all of the electricity for the building and allows students to participate in real‐time monitoring of the building’s energy use and solar power production. All the water needed for the building is collected and treated on site. This is done through a variety of methods including cisterns for storage, an interior green wall of tropical plants which treats grey water and a composting toilet to treat black water.

The most important aspect of the project is that all sustainable features are visible and functional to students to learn ecological concepts that can become intrinsic values for future generations.

Vital Stats
Certification Status Certified Living on April 10, 2013
Location Seattle, WA, USA
Bioregion Cascadia
Living Transect L4
Typology Building
Occupant Type Private Primary School

Project Team
Geotechnical GeoEngineers
Civil 2020 Engineering
Landscape: GGLO
Structural Quantum Consulting Engineers
Architectural KMD Architects
Plumbing Rushing
Mechanical Rushing
Electrical Rushing
Specialty Consultants O'Brien & Company
Contractor Skanska USA Building, Inc.
Urban Ecologist Back to Nature Design, LLC
Building Envelope Engineer Morrison Hershfield
Photo courtesy of Benjamin Benschneider Photo courtesy of Benjamin Benschneider

Site Info

Located on the visible corner of Lynn Street, Bertschi School Living Science Building is a 1,225 square foot building on a 3,888 square foot site that was previously a paved sport court. As an urban campus, Bertschi School is on a tight site where every square foot of outdoor space counts. The school has a variety of outdoor student learning zones that provide everything from physical activity to quiet contemplation. The two garden areas associated with the Living Science Building provide learning activities and spaces for quiet interaction among plants and other natural elements in these two different examples of urban agriculture. The site also integrates low impact development features to manage stormwater and water returned to the ecological flow after use within the building.

03. Habitat Exchange Imperative

PROJECT  Naches River
LOCATION Naches River, Washington, Modoc Plateau Ecoregion
LANDTRUST  The Nature Conservancy

Photo courtesy of Bertschi School Photo courtesy of Bertschi School

05. Net Positive Water Imperative

When Denis Hayes wants a building, you know it’s going to push boundaries. As president of the Bullitt Foundation and coordinator of the first Earth Day, Denis set out not only to create the greenest office building in the world, but also to change the policy landscape to make it easier for future projects. The project teams from the Bullitt Center and the Bertschi School Science Wing (another Seattle Living Building) worked with local regulators to explore creative permitting approaches and potential paths toward Net Positive Water.

Systems Used

Though these two projects have deviated slightly in their water systems approach, there are core strategies that they have both found successful given their climatic context.

    Both buildings are designed to capture rainwater from their rooftop catchment areas and store it in underground cisterns before treating it. Though both systems are built, neither is currently permitted: if and when the Department of Health allows it, the buildings will begin drinking potable rainwater.
    Stormwater is collected from Bertschi’s green roofs and combined with the stormwater that overflows from the potable water cistern. Bullitt relies on exterior bio-swales to infiltrate stormwater.
    Bullitt’s greywater is treated in a constructed wetland, elevated on the third story of the building, before draining via gravity to replenish the water table. At Bertschi, the greywater from sinks is pumped through two filtration units to the indoor green wall for irrigation.
    Blackwater at both Bullitt and Bertschi is collected and treated by composting toilets. The solids are collected by a local composting firm, and the leachate is sent to King County’s Carnation facility, where it is filtered using natural processes and used to help restore a native wetland.

Rainwater Harvesting

King County grants permits to some residential homes to use rainwater as their sole source of potable water, but they first have to demonstrate that connecting to municipal sources entails hardship. Because both Bullitt and Bertschi are located in the populous Capitol Hill neighborhood north of downtown Seattle, it was impossible to pursue a permit through this mechanism.

After extensive consultation with local authorities, the project team decided that the best approach would be to become a certified public water system. In order to do this, they first had to design a system that complied with the state Department of Health’s guidelines for potable water supplies for public systems, which are written for towns or municipalities and assume access to a dedicated staff and a lab.

The guidelines are broken into two categories: “surface water” and “groundwater.” Rainwater harvesting falls under the category of surface water, which has more stringent treatment requirements than groundwater even though rainwater collected from roofs is significantly cleaner. If the Department of Health or the EPA were to introduce a separate “rainwater” category into these guidelines, it may assist teams down the road.

If the Department of Health approves of Bullitt’s rainwater harvesting system, there will be a final hurdle: Seattle Public Utilities will have to agree to allow a new public drinking water system within its jurisdiction before the building can make the jump to drinking rainwater. If this comes to fruition, Bertschi and other projects will also be able to follow this path.

Blackwater and Greywater

According to Director Mark Buehrer of 2020 Engineering, the key to blackwater and greywater permitting is finding someone within the Authority Having Jurisdiction that trusts your practice. For Mark’s work with Bertschi and Bullitt, that person was Chief Plumbing Inspector Dave Cantrell. If the water systems remain exclusively within the building envelope, Dave has jurisdiction and is able to guide teams through the permitting process. Dave had worked with 2020 Engineering many times in the past, and knew that he could count on them to design a capable (though in this case, unconventional) plumbing system.

However, once a water system leaves the building envelope, it falls under a totally different jurisdiction and set of guidelines. Because Bertschi kept all their greywater systems within the building envelope, they had a much easier time acquiring all of their permits. Bullitt’s greywater system incorporated a constructed wetland on the building’s exterior, which triggered unanticipated permitting issues. Though it took the project team over 18 months to forge through the uncharted regulatory territory, the wetlands were eventually permitted as a hybrid septic-drain field.

Photo courtesy of Bertschi School Photo courtesy of Bertschi School

05. Net Positive Water Imperative

Renewable Energy Systems

20.1 kW rooftop mounted PV system with 225 W Sanyo panels and Enphase micro‐inverters.

Annual Energy Use

Energy Use Intensity 48.1 kbtu/sf/yr
Actual 48.1 kbtu/sf/yr
Stimulated/Designed 31.5 kbtu/sf/yr

Actual End use Breakdown

Heating 6852 kWh
Cooling 0 kWh
Lighting 4056 kWh (estimated, including green wall lighting, & classroom grow closet)
Fans/Pumps 860 kWh (estimated)
Plug Loads & Equipment 3725 kWh (estimated)
Vertical Transport 0 kWh
Domestic Hot Water 897 kWh (estimated)
Other 3800 kWh (estimated for composting toilet heat, vent, & vacuum pump)

Sub-metering data

There is no sub‐metering on this project, there is a single “catch‐all” electric meter that measures instantaneous kW and keeps a running tally of total kWh for whole projected. Production from PV system is recorded off of manufacturer provided web‐interface.

Design tool(s) and calculation method(s)

This project was not a good fit for typical energy modeling tools, so a custom spreadsheet was used to  predict energy use. Using hourly weather data heating energy was estimated (though this was a source  of error as we were too optimistic in our assumptions for heating system efficiency. Other energy  consumption was predicted based on reputable studies (such as an LBNL report on aquarium energy usage), manufacturer’s estimates (another source of error, particularly with the composting toilet  system), or manual calculations.

Photo courtesy of Bertschi School Photo courtesy of Bertschi School

From the very outset of this project, health has been a major concern. The creation of and advocacy for health was one of the drivers for Bertschi School to undertake the rigorous  standards of the Living Building Challenge. In design, the team worked to create spaces that provided  healthy air and daylighting for occupants. The inclusion of the green wall of tropical plants to treat  grey water has the added benefit of helping to purify the air in the Ecohouse. These are all of particular  importance for young children as they need an environment that will aid in their concentration and  academic performance.

Along with this was a detailed consideration for including healthy materials  that are Red List free. This was a massive undertaking that required the strength of convictions from  both the owner and design team to pursue rigorous health standards for all building products used in  the project. In construction, efforts were taken to educate the contractors about the Living Building  Challenge and the need for healthy materials that promote ingredient transparency in our  industry.

Since the project’s construction took place at an active school, the contractor took extra care  to ensure other classrooms were not affected by any construction debris, dust or noise. In occupancy,  all of these health issues from design to construction continue to play a role in supporting a healthy  environment for students. Interior finishes were reduced and products were selected to virtually  eliminate any off‐gassing. The students play an active role in their healthy indoor environment by controlling the lighting, natural ventilation and caring for the indoor plants that all contribute to a  successful space. Air quality testing performed during occupancy has proven that the measures taken  by the design and construction teams along with the owner has helped to ensure a long‐term health  environment for future generations who use the Bertschi Living Science Building.

Photo courtesy of Bertschi School Photo courtesy of Bertschi School

Summary of Approach

Designing a building pro‐bono which would be constructed entirely with community fundraising was a  great challenge. It was imperative that the team considered every design solution in a fiscally  responsible manner. The requirement for natural, non‐toxic, and appropriately sourced materials also  helped to support life‐cycle considerations. Materials were reduced throughout the project including  the elimination of needless finishes and synthetic materials. Embodied energy of materials, as well as  the overall building were always taken into consideration and then ultimately offset. Whenever  possible, materials were reused or reclaimed for use on the Bertschi School Science Living Building  project.

Construction waste was massively reduced and diverted at 90‐100% levels with absolutely no waste  being burned. Alternative Daily Cover is not considered a diversion in our calculations. All 46,200  pounds of construction waste, well under average for this building type, was sorted by hand at the Recovery 1 faculty, which garnered a 100% diversion rate for most categories. The school employs a rigid recycling and compost program. This includes participation by the student  body. Students learn to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost waste as well as understanding some of the  larger global issues of waste streams. For nearly 20 years, the school has been practicing a strict waste  management program that includes education. Each building on campus is equipped with appropriate  recycling and compost containers and the students are instructed on how to properly use them.

The Bertschi School Living Building has been designed for thoughtful deconstruction and reuse, if  necessary. Careful consideration was given to the majority of the buildings architectural and  mechanical features to allow for easy upgrade or deconstruction and reuse if necessary.

10. Red List Imperative

Red List Substitutions

CSI Materformat Division Original Product Red List Item Manufacturer & Product Name
Division 8 Skylights PVC Crystallite Skylights manufacturer removed PVC on request
Division 32 XeroFlor Drain Mat Phthalates Removed from the green roof assembly without compromising product performance or warranty. Company could not eliminate phthalates from product upon request
Division 7 C/S Group Expansion Joints NA Used Balco, Inc. Expansion Joints as a Red List Free alternative

Although not used on this project because product did not meet spec, our team worked with  Flotender Grey Water units to find a local alternative for our grey water boxes. Upon  investigation, we noticed the company had PVC and upon our request to comply with the Living Building Challenge, they  removed PVC from their designs.


Each product included in the Bertschi project presented challenges in determining accurate ingredient  and sourcing information. As one of the first Living Buildings, a great deal of education was needed to  help subcontractors and manufacturers understand the requirements and reasoning behind the Living  Building Challenge Imperatives 11 and 14. The team had to develop questionnaire templates that could  be distributed to manufacturers to outline the Challenge requirements and also gather product  data. Having a globally‐recognized contractor helped with these efforts as they have influence that  could help gather this information from even the largest manufacturers. In many, many instances it  was necessary to repeatedly and continually contact manufacturers to push to get responses to our  information requests. While every product represented a challenge in gathering information, perhaps  none was as difficult as mechanical and electrical items.

The large amount of these items included on  the project was the first difficulty to overcome in trying to gather so much data. Many manufacturers  did not have the information we were looking for on the smaller components or were not willing to release it. Additionally, many of the mechanical and electrical components used in the building industry  have so many parts that it is difficult to track Red List and Sourcing information. The sheer amount of  data to be collected on all these items presented huge challenges to the project team as we struggled to  provide products that met the Challenge while keeping the project on time and on budget.

At the time of construction, some products like the curtain wall and Kynar coating presented the team  with no alternatives that would meet the Red List. The design team often went through exhaustive  efforts to research alternative products that would meet the Challenge. However, many times we were  unable to find an acceptable equal in performance, warranty or Challenge criteria. Understanding the  parameters and allowing time for this additional research presented many obstacles.

Being one of the first Living Building Challenge project teams was also difficult when we were often the first to discover discrepancies between LBC criteria and building codes. An example of this is galvanized metals. At the  time of construction, galvanized electrical conduit was the only allowable product approved by the  city. The team searched for non‐metal alternates and each time they were rejected by inspection and  code officials. Although other products like fiberglass conduit might have been just as acceptable for  the use we were proposing, local authorities expressed their opposition. This is one of the difficulties  that eventually led to the temporary exception for galvanization as long as this type of metal was not  located exterior of the building to come in contact with water or earth.

There were other occasions on the project when information from the manufacturer would show no Red  List ingredients but upon further inspection and sometimes even purchase of the products, our team  would find out these claims were false. This led to last minute product substitutions which resulted in  project delays.

Throughout the Bertschi Living Building Challenge project there were many challenges with materials research. It is not easy to find products that meet such rigorous health and transparency standards. At this time in the  development of sustainability we all face a tough road to make real and positive change to an industry  that for so long, took for granted the negative health impacts of their products on those who were  unknowingly or unwilling able to search for the truth.

11. Embodied Carbon Footprint Imperative

Embodied carbon footprint (TCO2e) 29 TCO2e
Project Climate Action Registry – Type: wind
Provider 3Degrees Group, Inc.

Carbon Calculator’s Construction Carbon Calculator

12. Responsible Industry Imperative

Wood Sources Certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Salvaged

Timber Harvest & Seasoning Process

  • CR Siding
  • Larry Freeman
  • Diane Moody, FSC
  • Colin Wilson, Altruwood

This project made great strides in the local and regional FSC market. First, because the Living Building  Challenge is the first green building rating system to require FSC‐Certification down to the subcontractor  level, many local subcontractors are reanalyzing obtaining a Chain of Custody for their businesses. Since  this has not been required by other systems, this level of certification has not yet been viewed as an added business value by many companies. The Living Building Challenge, and specifically our project, is changing this with our local suppliers.

Secondly, there were numerous limitations of product availability for our project in the Pacific  Northwest. One example was our required FSC‐Certified OSB in sheets larger than 4’x8’. Our team was  finally able to find a manufacturer to make these FSC Certified OSB panels, which had just opened their  facility located in Canada.

Thirdly, because it was necessary to look outside of the typical supply chains to locate something FSCCertified, new connections were made between the design team, contractor, subcontractor and  suppliers. New relationships were formed this way with local suppliers, including Sustainable Northwest  Wood. Additionally, our design team was also able to directly utilize help from some of the upper level  management at FSC who aided in tracking down local supply leads.

Finally, because of this project our architectural firm has signed on with Cascadia Green Building  Council’s pledge to provide FSC‐Certified or better wood flooring in all of our projects. We have now  made this change in our company’s master specifications document so that it will be included on all  projects we do. The Bertschi School Living Building has been a great success in many ways and the FSCCertified  wood is just one great aspect of the ways in which the Challenge is pushing the design and  building industry. Through the inspiration and information of a built case study like the Bertschi School,  owner’s, designers, and contractors will see that stringent, lasting and worthwhile changes can be  made for the benefit of sustainability in the building industry. Overall, this project was a great example  of connecting different parties from the Certification body through the installer. These relationships and  connections will be used on future Pacific Northwest projects with the design team and the large  contractor.


CSI Materformat Division Specified Manufacturer + Product Names
Division 25 AltruWood Co., FSC Cedar Siding and Trim
Division 10 Roseberg Forest Products, Dimensional Lumber
Division 6 Premier Building Systems, SIPS Panels
Division 6 Calvert (Matheus Lumber), Glulams
Division 6 SierraPine, Medex MDF Core

13. Living Economy Sourcing Imperative

Regional Products Specified

CSI Materformat Division Specified Manufacturer + Product Names Location
Division 6 Premier Building Systems, SIPS Panels Tacoma, WA
Division 5/32 Alliance Steel Fabrication, Fencing, handrails McMinnville, OR/Seattle, WA
Division 7 AEP Span, Metal Roofing Tacoma, WA/ Kalama, WA
Division 6 AltruWood, FSC Siding and Trim North Vancouver Island, BC
Division 31 Glacier Northwest, Aggregates Washington and BC
Division 32 Miles Sand and Gravel, Crushed Rock Washington State
Division 3 Tiger Mountain Innovations, Concrete Counters Seattle, WA
Division 26 Crystallite, Skylights Everett, WA
Division 22 Oldcastle Precast, Inc, Cisterns Auburn, WA

Proprietary Claims

CSI Materformat Division Specified Manufacturer + Product Names
Division 26 Southwire Company SIMpull XHHW‐2
Division 7 Dow Corning, 795 Building Sealant

Brokers that assisted in sourcing salvaged materials

Salvaged Product + Organization Individuals Contact Information
Runnel Pebbles salvaged from old Coldwater Creek retail store Jill Rinde | General Manager CB Richard Ellis, Inc. | Asset Services Greg Anderson, Insite Development 710 Second Ave, Suite 730 | Seattle, WA 98104 O 206 344 5151 | F 206 344 5252 |,
Salvaged Wood Flooring from Olive 8 Development David G Thyer, President R.C.Hedreen Company W 206 624‐8909 F 206 625‐1543
Salvaged Steel Railings Alliance Steel Fabrication, Inc. 10751 A St S, Tacoma, WA (253) 538‐7935
Restroom Tile Udo J. Reich | President ambiente european tile design 227 NE 65th St. Seattle, WA 98115 Direct: 206 388 1025 Fax: 206 388 1043

Through the perspective of sustainability’s triple‐bottom line, we understand the need to focus on relationships  and how our buildings help us relate to each other. In order to be truly sustainable, we must work towards  buildings that through their stewardship of nature can provide for everyone and encourage a sense of  community. In designing for a space that was to be used by young students, it was crucial that the design be  comfortable and not create distraction. The classroom was designed to provide a lecture space that is more  appropriately sized for sitting while the tall Ecohouse space was scaled for standing experiments and housing  the large green wall. The project site is small and traditionally might have elicited a design that was lot line to  lot line, in order to maximize the space. Contrary to that practice, care was taken to ensure that the space was  “right‐sized” for the programmed use.

Although this building is located within the secure perimeter of a private school, Bertschi does provide free tours  to the general public and offers student summer courses that are open to the public. The science classroom  design strictly adhered to the principle of Rights to Nature. Shaded entirely by the historic Church Building, the  Living Building does not take away from adjacent sites but rather is a good example of the importance of  consideration for solar access.

The project team embraced the Equity Petal requirements of the Living Building Challenge. From the beginning  of the project, the team itself was a tight knit group of individuals with a passion for sustainability and a  dedication to the project’s mission. By forming the Restorative Design Collective, the team became a community  of design, engineering, and construction professionals that were voicing their commitment to seeing the Bertschi  Living Science Building become a reality. The collective believed that the building would serve as an example of  what was possible, a teaching tool for the school, and a source of inspiration and education for others in their  professions as well as the greater community.

Beauty is often a controversial quality, especially when referring to how it might be subjectively judged for the  Living Building Challenge. But to the Bertschi Team, we understand the power of a meaningful design or  aesthetically pleasing natural element that can bring deep satisfaction to the mind. We realize that beauty is  unique to everyone and the mere consideration of whether something meets this characteristic has already been  successful in allowing us to consider the possibilities. In many ways, Beauty and Spirit became personal to the  Bertschi design team, the Bertschi faculty and their students. We each have our own stories about the ways in  which the Living Building Challenge framework and the building we designed, built, and learn in has touched our  lives. For many of us, both professionally and personally, we will carry this experience with us forever.

The Bertschi School Living Science Building has an honorable and necessary purpose. It exists for primary school  education and aspires to teach not only science, but environmental stewardship, as well. Bertschi’s campus  embodies a spirit of place. Located at the north end of Bertschi’s urban campus, it bookends a block of existing  buildings that Bertschi repurposed as school program spaces. Through renovation of historic homes, the overall  campus is a celebration of culture and place by honoring the buildings that existed on its site before the school  was there. Recent construction projects have worked to enhance the campus by adding the first LEED Gold  certified school building in Washington followed by the first Living Building Version 2.0 building. The campus  offers its students the opportunity to learn and play in buildings that range from early 1900’s Craftsman homes  to a mid‐century church, to the most innovative and sustainable buildings that are now possible.

For the students of Bertschi School, the beauty of their Living Science Building is in the manifestation of their  dreams. When the design team began our project, we started with the students. We asked them what a Living  Building means to them. What would they dream about seeing in their classroom? How would they wish to see  nature expressed? The students were inspiring and shifted the focus of what we as designers thought was  possible. They asked for “a stream [that] could be running under the classroom” and “A greenhouse where  something would be always growing.” Out of these ideas developed some of the greatest design features of the  building that not only perform functions and met LBC Imperatives but inspire and teach the beauty of nature.

The stream became a pebble‐lined runnel in the classroom floor that weaves its way through the building  mimicking the natural patterns of rivers. Part of the rain water collection system, the runnel and other pipes  bring the beauty of the hydrologic cycle right inside the classroom. The greenhouse has turned into the  Ecohouse with a wall full of tropical plants that treat our grey water. Students learn that plants are not only beautiful to look at, but that their beauty is also in their function. These natural features represented in their  classroom show the interconnectedness of the natural world. Our choices of how we use water have  consequences on nature and the students can reach out and touch these relationships from their desks. But  these connections don’t end inside. Just beyond the windows of the classroom the students are surrounded by  an ethnobotanical garden. The changing patterns of nature are on full display here as the students grow a  variety of vegetables, fruits and indigenous plants. They learn about Native peoples using these same plants for  tools, connecting them with the spirit of our ancestral culture. Nestled quietly throughout the building and its  garden’s natural elements are artists representations of nature. From all five species of salmon cast into the  floor along the runnel to the beetles mounted next to the green wall and even the garden sculptures, students  are immersed in the beauty of art that pays tribute to nature.

The most beautiful aspects of the building are the lessons and perspectives it instills in its students, quantified in  the survey they were asked to complete. Their answers prove that the building itself is creating a new normal  for the kids who have the opportunity to learn from it and in it. From their experiences in the classroom we all  hope they will carry forward what some students said so simply, “that all buildings should be living” and “we are  living what we are learning.” Those thoughts are planted like seeds in their mind and inform the many beautiful  sustainable ideas and solutions that develop as they become adults and choose their own paths into the future.

A Living Building created for the education of our youth is a game changer. It is something that proves to their  young minds that this type of self‐sustaining, healthy and beautiful building is indeed possible and in fact  necessary. With the Bertschi building, we are hoping to make a shift in the way educational spaces are thought  of traditionally. It is time to start creating spaces for our students that are more than just shelter for activity but  a place that they can learn from and be inspired by. Their classrooms can create the impact that helps them  choose the direction for their careers and inspire them to make a difference through their life’s passion. The  Bertschi project team saw the potential for this and did everything we could to involve the students in the design  and the function of their classroom.

Based on the metaphor of a flower, the Living Building Challenge itself is an embodiment of beauty. By  designing the Bertschi Living Science Building to tell the story of the Challenge and what it requires, the team  believes they are providing a truly beautiful and inspiring place. All of the systems and components that help  the building function have been left exposed so students and visitors are able to understand how the building  works and what is necessary to achieve Imperatives like net zero energy and water. Wood from responsibly  managed local sources used as structural components are celebrated and left exposed. Processes are labeled  and materials left natural. As an important consideration for all designs, whether pursuing the Living Building Challenge or not, Biophilia  was also featured. The design team understood that this Imperative would add to the building’s beauty and  spirit. It is in our human nature to seek elements of the natural world for healing and wholeness. When we ask  a group of students or adults during workshops to think about what is beautiful to them and they often recall  something natural. Designs throughout the project incorporate organic forms and shapes from the river in the  floor to the nautilus on the moss mat roof above. Natural light, air, complimentary contrasts, indoor/outdoor  spaces and spirit of place are just some of the biophilic features that Bertschi’s Science Wing displays.

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