Seattle School Certified as World’s Fourth Living Building; First on West Coast

April 16, 2013

For those who aren’t familiar with certified Living Buildings, this story is a great place to start. Congratulations to Bertschi School in Seattle!

EcoHouse and Green wall with students Credit: Business Wire

EcoHouse and Green wall with students
Credit: Business Wire

Bertschi School Science Wing engages and enriches elementary students through hands-on sustainability learning

Bertschi School, an independent elementary school in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Wash., is now home to the first Living Building on the West Coast and the world’s fourth fully certified Living Building. Completed in February 2011, Bertschi’s Living Building Science Wing is a 3,380-square-foot interactive learning environment for students ages 5-11. It is the first built project to meet the standards of version 2.0 of the Living Building Challenge, a green building certification program which integrates urban agriculture, social justice and universal access issues, and the use of healthy building materials.

A program of the International Living Future Institute, the Living Building Challenge (LBC) is widely considered the world’s most rigorous building performance standard. A Living Building generates all of its own energy through clean, renewable resources; captures and treats its own water; incorporates only non-toxic, appropriately sourced materials; and operates efficiently and for maximum beauty. A building must perform as designed for one full year of occupancy and pass a third-party audit before receiving certification as “Living.”

Hawaii Prep Academy’s Living Building

Conceptualized with significant teacher and student input, the Science Wing serves as the ultimate tool for teaching science and sustainability. Students participate in real-time monitoring of the building’s energy and water use to understand sustainable practices and witness the impact of their daily choices on the building’s performance.

“At Bertschi School, we are committed to educating children to become thoughtful stewards of their local and global communities,” said Brigitte Bertschi, Head of Bertschi School. “We are not simply teaching about how to responsibly manage resources. The Science Wing allows students to put our curriculum to authentic use. I am proud that our children are empowered to make a difference at a very young age — even if it is a small one.”

Bertschi School’s Science Wing sits on an urban site with an ethnobotanical garden that serves as an outdoor classroom. With its indigenous northwest plants, the garden enables students to learn about native culture and history, as well as use plant material in their art classes, such as berries for paint dyes and grasses used to fashion paint brushes. Food produced in this garden — and in the neighboring vegetable garden on-site — helps educate students about the values of organic farming and growing food.

The building’s sustainable features are visible and functional to foster dynamic learning opportunities. It is net-zero energy and water; a 20-kilowatt photovoltaic system provides all of the electricity, and cisterns collect rainwater that is used for irrigation and flushing the composting toilet. Excess captured water is absorbed by the on-site rain garden. Other water-saving features include a green roof and an interior living wall of tropical plants, which treats all of the building’s grey water.

The design of the Science Wing derived from a partnership between Bertschi School and the Restorative Design Collective, a multi-disciplinary team led by KMD Architects and comprised of leading Pacific Northwest green building professionals. The Collective contributed their design services pro bono, with donations amounting to more than $500,000 in professional time and building materials.

“The challenges in creating truly net-zero energy and water buildings help all of us understand the integrative and continual efforts that are necessary to achieve the high-performance buildings that our changing planet requires,” said Stacy Smedley of KMD Architects, co-founder of the Restorative Design Collective.

In order to meet LBC standards, Skanska USA’s green building team navigated the strict material requirements to source building products that did not contain any of the materials or chemicals on the LBC