9/11/2015 | Posted at 10:04 pm

Restorative Design Collective


GGLO is part of a team comprised of some of the Seattle area’s leading green building professionals that formed The Restorative Design Collective to build a cutting-edge green science building for the Bertschi School, an independent elementary school on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Working pro bono, the team designed and built the new science building to meet the standards of the Living Building Challenge, a “deep-green” building program that encourages projects to achieve self-sufficiency by generating all of their own energy with renewable resources, harvesting and treating all of their own water on site, and operating at maximum levels of efficiency with a healthy indoor environment.

GGLO Team:
Mark Sindell ASLA

Bertschi School Science Wing Sustainable Design Case Study (PDF)

Living Building Challenge Case Study (LINK)

Ethnobotanical Garden interactive plant guide (LINK)

The Restorative Design Collective:
Founded in 2009 by Stacy Smedley and Chris Hellstern of KMD Architects, The Restorative Design Collective is a group of Seattle-area design professionals who share the desire to push themselves and their firms to the forefront of the sustainable building movement. Members of the Collective recognize and endeavor to further the Living Building Challenge which plays an essential role in raising green building standards, meeting the 2030 Challenge and creating net zero buildings.

Members include:

Architectural Design: KMD Architects
Landscape Architecture: GGLO
Civil Engineering: 2020 Engineering
Geotechnical Engineering: GeoEngineers
Structural Engineering: Quantum Consulting Engineers
Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing: Rushing
Sustainability Consultant: O’Brien and Company
Food Systems Consultant: Back To Nature Design LLC
PublicRelationsServices: Parsons Public Relations
Preconstruction/Construction Services: Skanska

Also collaborating are the Cascadia Region Green Building Council, King County GreenTools, and the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development Green Building Program.


The Living Building Challenge v2.0:

Since its inception in 2006, the Living Building Challenge has gained global recognition as the most radical and revolutionary green building standard. The Living Building Challenge is a program initially launched and operated by the Cascadia Green Building Council (now run by the umbrella International Living Future organization). It serves as a challenge to builders, owners, architects, engineers, and design professionals to create buildings that are net-zero energy, net-zero water, and use resources efficiently and for maximum beauty. When the Restorative Design Collective started work, there were more than 70 proposed Living Buildings in the design or construction phase, as well as two certified projects and one with partial certification.

The Project: The Bertschi School Science Building

An independent elementary school known for its integrated, innovative program, Bertschi School has a strong commitment to sustainability and incorporates this focus into both its curriculum and operations. In 2007, the school completed construction on its main building, The Bertschi Center, which is the first LEED Gold certified elementary classroom building in Washington State.

The new Science Building was an opportunity for the Bertschi School to take its commitment to sustainability to the next level-to create a “Living Building.” With only a handful of local construction projects following the Living Building Challenge’s guidelines, Bertschi School’s new science building – completed in February 2011 – is the first building on the West Coast designed to meet the Living Building Challenge.

The Bertschi School Living Science Wing achieved full Living Building Challenge certification on Monday April 15th, 2013.


First and foremost, the successful design of a building that meets the demanding, multi-faceted requirements of the Living Building Challenge calls for an interdisciplinary, integrated approach to design. To that end, the design process began with a series of workshops in which the entire project team participated. Key design ideas that emerged from the collaborative workshops included:

For the site:

Urban Agriculture (ethno-botanical gardens)
Habitat exchange that relates to curriculum
Rain Gardens
Green Wall (inside/outside)
Expressive Cisterns
Porous paving for hardscape/drama performance area
Indoor-Outdoor spaces – operable walls/windows
Local natural systems interpretation – salmon and watershed

For the building:

Solar Hot Water
Composting Toilets
Natural ventilation – ‘breathing building’
Strong interactive/educational component
Express structure and building form

The resulting conceptual design for the project is shown in the renderings and landscape plans below.

Bertschi_LA plan 111010

For a PDF with a more complete sequential diagram of the building’s ecological water flow click here.

SC01_Vulcan Block 48_V06


GGLO’s landscape design includes the following site features:

Site Petal

  • Ethno-botanical landscape for ‘urban agriculture’

Water Petal

  • Green roof: First ‘moss mat’ to be installed on the West Coast
  • Interior ‘living wall’ to filter and absorb grey water
  • Rainwater harvesting: System of two cisterns to capture rainwater and grey water for use in building and landscape
  • Rain gardens for stormwater infiltration

Health Petal

  • Biophilia: Natural forms and processes expressed through design and visible from windows above

Materials Petal

  • PVC-free landscape irrigation system

Beauty Petal

  • ‘Outdoor Classroom’ with porous paving and interactive elements, including a runnel to express the water system

Lessons Learned:

  • Integrated design is critical to success.
  • Achieving the water petal is difficult on a small urban site.
  • Start early on the “Red List” as procuring products without these is time consuming.
  • Allow for the complexity of living infrastructure such as green walls.
  • Consider your timeline; meeting the Living Building Challenge takes time.