Living Building Education: The Evolution of Bertschi School’s Science Wing


Living Building Education: The Evolution of Bertschi School’s Science Wing


With an extensive history of sustainable curriculum and success in educating compassionate and creative students, in 2009 Bertschi School embraced the most stringent sustainability building standard in the world to manifest the school’s values through its new science wing.

Pursuing the Living Building Challenge and inspired by the dreams of Bertschi School’s elementary students, the pro-bono design team worked to create one of the most sustainable education buildings on our planet. Along the way, facing seemingly overwhelming challenges at times and learning invaluable lessons, the design team worked diligently with its project partners to advance the environmental rigors of the building industry.

Now, with a building crafted of healthy materials, operating on net zero energy, net zero water and cultivating a food-producing garden, the Bertschi students are living and learning surrounded by natural science every day. Living Building Education tells the story of the school’s journey with a team of dedicated deep green professionals who worked collaboratively to make this leading edge science wing and its sustainable learning experience a reality. Living Building Education is part of the first wave of groundbreaking publications in the Living Building Challenge Series documenting the path to a sustainable future.

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Chris Hellstern

About the Author

Chris Hellstern grew up with a deep affection for nature that was strengthened by his summer adventures in Alaska while serving as a Certified Level III Alaska Naturalist leading outback kayak trips, Chris
has long been a passionate environmental advocate. Chris holds a Masters of Architecture degree from Texas Tech University. His thesis work focused on designing a sustainable elementary school in Seattle that would allow both students and faculty to experience the building’s many environmental features through education and practice.

Now with ZGF Architects in Seattle, Chris’ professional experience spans a variety of project types including health care, justice, office, science laboratory, and higher education. Chris has served as a Cascadia Green Building Council Branch member and a Living Building Ambassador for the International Living Future Institute. He also co-founded the Restorative Design Collective and the Seattle 2030 Roundtable, which works with local architects to achieve the 2030 Challenge.

Since 2011, he has served as the first Regional Chair of Washington and Alaska for USGBC students. As a designer, co-project manager and construction contract administrator for the Bertschi project, Chris has been fortunate to travel around the country speaking at numerous professional conferences and universities. In addition, he volunteers with local school groups, mentoring elementary and secondary school students about sustainable practices. Chris lives in Seattle with his family, spending weekends in the beautiful natural environment of the Pacific Northwest.


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