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In the Spotlight


By Alexandra Deem

Meek and Pena at the IDL

Christopher Meek and Rob Peña in the IDL's new digs

Media outlets have widely extolled the virtues of the Capitol Hill neighborhood's new landmark of environmental savvy, the Bullitt Center, which opened its doors on Earth Day. The College of Built Environments is proudly linked to the project through the building's first and second floor occupant, the University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab (IDL). Relocated from their previous Northlake headquarters, the IDL team has spent the last month becoming acquainted with the new mecca of green technology they now call home. The IDL team works to provide support to regional architecture firms in developing sustainable high-performance building design, especially in the areas of daylighting, thermal comfort, and energy efficiency. These specializations made them valuable advisors to Seattle architecture and design firm, Miller Hull, as it developed plans for the design and construction of the Bullitt Center.

Research Associate Professor of Architecture and IDL team member Christopher Meek is excited by the new prospects for collaboration the move has afforded. “The building really represents a nexus of interests,” he said. “It is bringing many like-minded people together.” 

Christopher Meek at his Desk in the Bullitt Center

Christopher Meek at his desk explaining how the Shüco windows will periodically open on their own as the building self-adjusts to maintain a comfortable temperature

This is evident in the open office space the IDL shares with both Seattle University’s Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability and SOLARC Engineering and Energy + Architectural Consulting, a long-time IDL collaborator. The resources of these two organizations, paired with the research of capabilities of the IDL, promise innovative results. Collaboration is also likely among the building's other tenants, which include the International Living Future Institute and Intentional Futures

Meek is appreciative also of the increased spotlight on IDL activity lent by the publicity surrounding the building’s complete self-sufficiency from producing all of its own energy needs to composting its own waste. “It has captured the public imagination in a way other projects haven’t,” he said.

With the surge of regional and national public interest, Associate Professor of Architecture Rob Peña recognizes the need for additional communication regarding the aims and achievements of the Bullitt Center and the organizations it houses.

Rob leading a tour

Rob Peña leads tours of the Bullitt Center as part of the community outreach plan 

“We need a programmatic platform that will provide the world with unbiased information about this building,” he said. “Our goal is to show it can be done.”

The example is undoubtedly necessary. As Peña later shared during the daily 4 p.m. group tour of the building, in the U.S., buildings are responsible for roughly half of the country’s energy consumption.

Building display
The display panel: On the day of this tour, the building only used 1/3 of the building's solar panel energy output

Despite the attention and activity, the IDL is first and foremost a space for business and research. Meek admits that these pursuits have been somewhat hampered by the attention the building has stirred and continues to garner. “We haven’t established an uninterrupted rhythm yet.”

Bullitt Staircase

Tour guests enjoy the view from the “irresistible stairway"

Indeed, the daily tours are a  source of distraction as the acoustics of a building that has been designed to allow maximum airflow make it such that a gathering of three to four people generates a low roar. This is an adjustment for a team used to the peace and quiet of the Northlake location.  

With support from the Bullitt Foundation, beginning June 17, the education space and the first exhibit, called "Living Proof," will open to the public. The job of leading public tours will transfer to a group of volunteers and graduate architecture students working with the IDL this summer, which Peña says will free up faculty like himself to focus on the exciting work of learning from this "living laboratory."


Guests look bemused as they come face to face with the building's composters, a key component of the Living Building Challenge

In the face of much change the IDL team is positive. “We’re eager to learn what it’s like to work in a Living Building,”  Peña said.


In the parlor with the lead-free pipe: Displays in the visitor's center show the painstakingly vetted materials sourced for construction. No "Red List” hazardous materials were used, including PVC, cadmium, lead, mercury and hormone-mimicking substances, all of which are commonly found in building components

Community involvement remains a major priority as the IDL plans to host two high school graduates interested in studying engineering for a few weeks.

As for the faculty and research assistants, self-adjustment will continue in the new self-adjusting building. Most importantly, the IDL will continue to be at the forefront of modeling just how much can be done with what Peña has termed “state-of-the-shelf” technology—resources that have been around for some time—in creating a place-centric model of sustainable architecture. 

Blinds and timber

The blinds outside of the building have a great mind of their own: vigilantly changing position as the daylight changes


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