Ever since the invention of the skyscraper, the contest between cities to see who could be home to the tallest building has had a symbolic potency on par with the space race. Now two of America’s “greenest” cities are engaged in a whole new sort of architectural cage match, and in the process they’re inverting the dated priorities of the profligate, fossil-fuel soaked 20th century and instead designing buildings based on the harmonious functioning of ecosystems.
Within weeks of each other, groups in both Seattle and Oregon announced that they were building the world’s “greenest” office building. These structures go way beyond the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Gold standard, aiming instead for the much more stringent and results-oriented Living Building Standard.
The defining feature of the Living Building standard is that, true to its name, a building must behave like a living organism. And not just a wasteful, unsustainable individual, but an entire, self-contained ecosystem. A Living Building must produce all of the electricity it uses, and collect 100 percent of the water it consumes. Both requirements mean that a living building must be extremely efficient with both energy and water in addition to being especially good at collecting both.
So far only three buildings in the world have attained Living Building certification, in part because a structure’s performance must be measured for a full year to establish its bona fides. So it will be some time until we know whether—and by what measure—Seattle or Oregon is home to the “world’s greenest building.”