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.
|Certification Status||Certified Living on April 10, 2013|
|Location||Seattle, WA, USA|
|Occupant Type||Private Primary School|
|Structural||Quantum Consulting Engineers|
|Specialty Consultants||O'Brien & Company|
|Contractor||Skanska USA Building, Inc.|
|Urban Ecologist||Back to Nature Design, LLC|
|Building Envelope Engineer||Morrison Hershfield|
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
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.
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.
- RAINWATER HARVESTING
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 MANAGEMENT
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.
- GREYWATER REUSE
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 TREATMENT
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.
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.
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 End use Breakdown
|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)|
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.
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.
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.
SUMMARY OF CHALLENGES
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
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|
|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 firstname.lastname@example.org | www.cbre.com, Greg@insite123.com|
|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 email@example.com www.ambientetile.com|
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.
Educational Website bertschi.org/who‐we‐are/our‐campus
Tour Information bertschi.org/who‐we‐are/our‐campus
- Contact Emily Fowler
- Phone 206‐442‐6860
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org