Skanska’s Bertschi School Science Classroom – which we completed in 2011 in Seattle – has achieved certification under the rigorous Living Building Challenge program, a green building certification program that integrates urban agriculture, social justice and universal access issues, and the use of healthy building materials. This Bertschi elementary school project is the first Living Building on the West Coast and the world’s fourth fully-certified Living Building.
Stringent Living Building standards
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.”
“The Living Building Challenge is creating a major shift in the built environment — just as LEED did 10 years ago,” said Chris Toher, Skanska executive vice president and Seattle general manager. “Thanks to the Restorative Design Collective, the Bertschi Living Building Science Wing is a model for sustainability in construction, and has challenged our industry to push for more net-zero buildings in our region and beyond.”
Key sustainable features
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.
In order to meet LBC standards, Skanska’s green building team navigated the strict material requirements to source building products that do not contain any of the materials or chemicals on the LBC Red List of harmful products. One of the greatest challenges in this effort was finding local manufacturers and vendors who were fully transparent about the chemical makeup of their products. The use of healthy materials promotes better indoor air quality, as well as furthers transparency in the building materials industry.
A sustainability laboratory
Designed with significant teacher and student input, the Science Wing is 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."
A case study of the project can be found here: