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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Mar/Apr 2002 : What Makes It Green : With Age Comes Wisdom

Feature

What Make's It Green?
With Age Comes Wisdom


It’s been said that in order to see the future, you must first look to the past. In designing and building Seattle’s Cedar River Watershed Education Center, this adage certainly held true for Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects, Ltd., Seattle, WA.

Built on a site with remnants of past development—most notably the foundations of an historic silk railroad power station that have been preserved—the Cedar River Watershed now stands as a monument to the marriage between preservation and progress. “We tried to design the building so that it would not only be of this time, but be respectful of the patterns of building that have gone before it,” says Paul Olson, AIA for Jones & Jones.

 

 

Six Submissions to the annual "What Makes It Green?" exhibit.

It’s been said that in order to see the future, you must first look to the past. In designing and building Seattle’s Cedar River Watershed Education Center, this adage certainly held true for Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects, Ltd., Seattle, WA.

Built on a site with remnants of past development—most notably the foundations of an historic silk railroad power station that have been preserved—the Cedar River Watershed now stands as a monument to the marriage between preservation and progress. “We tried to design the building so that it would not only be of this time, but be respectful of the patterns of building that have gone before it,” says Paul Olson, AIA for Jones & Jones.

“The whole genesis of [the project] came from two main streams: one being that the watershed and public utilities department had been doing some interpretive work with school groups and the public about what they do. There was also a movement in the city to protect the watershed conservation area,” Olson explains. “Those two components came together to educate the public about what they do to bring water into people’s homes—not only about the human infrastructure, but also the natural infrastructure to do that.”

Education is clearly at the root of the facility’s design. The entire site is an exhibit providing covert and overt opportunities for learning about water and its significance both ecologically and culturally. Living roofs juxtaposed to conventional metal roofs demonstrate the role of soil and plants in water retention to delay runoff and the natural filtering capability of soil. Native plantings reveal plant communities integrated with soils, fungi, mosses and microbes essential to naturally purify water. Rain barrels catch water for reuse as irrigation water on a small repeatable scale, and waterless urinals save a potential 45,000 gallons of water per year.

At the outset of construction, minimal clearing was carefully executed. Salvaging woody debris and chipping slash provided natural deadfall habitat and mulch for later use. Various built elements, such as wood rails, are designed for easy disassembly so that components susceptible to wear and weathering can easily be changed without necessitating a complete replacement.

Durable, long-lasting, natural and local materials were used throughout the project as well. Nearly 100 percent FSC certified wood was used on the building in its entirety, including formwork, framing, sheathing, trusses, finishes, cabinets, windows, doors and cedar siding from a local Whatcom County Forest Trust. Recycled mastic cellulose insulation was used in all cavity walls for thermal and acoustic insulation, and recycled plastic and wood fiber decking was used for boardwalks and decks, which were framed using ACQ-treated lumber. Further, a minimum 25 percent fly ash was used in all structural and finish concrete.

Natural materials with minimal finish predominate the structures in both interior and exterior gathering places, and State of California compliance was used as the minimum standard for all paints and finishes. Formaldehyde-free medium-density fiberboard was used for select flat finish ceilings, and phenolic resin impregnated kraft paper countertops were used for much of the cabinetry.

As polished as the project might seem, hindsight is always 20/20. Support for and knowledge of green building strategies; available, educated consultants; and technological advances in green products were not as readily available eight years ago at the onset of the project as they are now. And, according to Olson, funding was a big problem as well.

“It was a real challenge to raise money, because donors were hesitant to give money to a project that was primarily funded by the public utility,” Olson explains. “So we modified the project several times to make it affordable.”

However, thanks to the Friends of the Cedar Watershed group, former Mayor Paul Schell and Diana Gail, director of Seattle Public Utilities, along with the city council, the project was finally pushed through the starting gate. Though it was an up-hill battle, history will certainly prove that green projects like the Cedar Watershed Education Center are well worth the effort.

“I think there still remain some challenges of building highly-crafted, high-performance buildings in a public, low bid contract context,” Olson says. “To me, good green design is not different than good design. You’re talking about better performance. You’re talking about better building materials and longer life cycles. These are good investments for the public that are held in the public trust. It’s a wise choice to build them well.”


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