Students, Science and Solar


Inside this Article

Bertschi School Living Science Building (BSLSB), located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, was one of the first projects in the world to pursue the Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification under its version 2.0 criteria—and the first to achieve it. This nonprofit elementary school science wing was designed with the input of the students.

BSLSB is a 1,425-square-foot building on a site that was previously a paved sport court. The school has a variety of outdoor student learning zones that provide everything from physical activity to quiet contemplation. The most important aspect of the project is that all sustainable features are visible and functional to students to learn ecological concepts that can become intrinsic values for future generations.

The advocacy for health was one of the drivers for Bertschi School to undertake the rigorous standards of the LBC. During the design phase, the team worked to create spaces that provided healthy air and daylight for occupants, and carefully chose building and finish materials that were as nontoxic as possible.

The building taps into the sun with a 20.4-kilowatt batteryless grid-tied PV system, which produces all of the building’s electricity. The microinverter-based system allows students to participate in real-time monitoring of the solar power production through Enphase Energy’s Enlighten website.

All of the water needed for the building is collected and treated on-site through a variety of methods, including cisterns for storage and a composting toilet to treat blackwater. The inclusion of the green wall of tropical plants to treat graywater (see “The Living Building Challenge” in this issue) has the added benefit of helping purify the air.

For the students of Bertschi School, the beauty of their LBC building is in the manifestation of their dreams. When the design team began the project, they started with the students, asking them what a ”living building” meant to them. What did they dream about seeing in their classroom? How did they wish to see nature expressed? The students were inspiring and shifted the focus of what the designers thought was possible, requesting “a stream [that] could be running under the classroom” and “a greenhouse where something would be always growing.” Out of these ideas developed some of the building’s greatest design features that not only perform functions and met LBC imperatives, but inspire and illustrate the beauty of nature.

—Adapted from the BSLSB case study on the International Living Future Institute website (

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