The Art of Eco: Seattle University Integrated Visual Arts Center


The Art of Eco: Seattle University Integrated Visual Arts Center


Kejia Zhang
University of Washington

Xiaoxi Jiao
University of Washington


David Strauss
University of Washington



This project takes design guts to restore, readapt, and reuse a historic building giving it new life and new energy. There is a clear distinction of what is new and what is old, while successfully integrating both with green expertise. The student’s effective adaptation of the existing building with the new allows for the public space to capture much needed Seattle daylight and fresh air.


Ten Sustainability Measures

Measure 1:  Design and Innovation

To make a successful adaptive reuse with sustainability as a goal, the existing building needs to be considered in terms of architectural heritage and an embodied (carbon) energy carrier. This project aims to have as little impact on the environment as possible by, first, keeping as much of the existing structure, concrete walls in this case, and retrofit with insulation. Then additional program space needed is carefully tailored to the minimum size but flexible for both immediate need and future potential use. More importantly, minimal intervention alters the identity of the original as little as possible to maintain the characteristics of the neighborhood, long a center of Jesuit pedagogical culture in the Seattle University. As the project is located in the Seattle 2030 District and Capitol Hill Eco District, the new building is expected to meet all the criteria to be sustainable and run at as little as 13.8EUI compare to typical institutional buildings of 102EUI.

Measure 2:  Regional/Community Design

It was fundamental to understand that the site is located at the edge of a dense urban institutional zone that is rapidly developing, adjacent to a predominantly single-family residential neighborhood. The basic role of the new building is to unify them both by a fluid transition from institutional scale to residential scale. This became the driving force of a hybrid scale accommodating the need of an Integrated Visual Arts Center while fitting into the existing context. Along with the visual message that the new integrated visual arts center wants to express, the addition is designed with the idea of glowing boxes that optimize daylight and provide luminous identity and security in the night time to improve the already high community walk score of 96. With a transit score of 84 and 8 bus lines within a 5 minute walk, the building provides no vehicle parking. Indoor bike storages enhances the healthy and eco life style of Seattle.

Measure 3:  Land Use and Site Ecology

As determined by the Seattle University Master Plan, the site is considered as a gallery and gate of its community outreach program: the student art gallery and a community maker space are located at the most visible positions of the project. With Seattle University’s Jesuit tradition, the outreach of knowledge to the community is one of their most important goals. This building will contribute significantly to its activity. The building collects and treats gray water from around the immediate site, building operations and roof. Sitting on a major watershed that leads to the Puget Sound, where surface gray water gathers from adjacent neighborhoods and Seattle University, the building has a water recycling system, cistern and bio-swale, that treat surface water onsite and detains storm water runoff.

Measure 4:  Bioclimatic Design

The activity level of this project is considered to be light to moderate. In Seattle’s weather, the building requires mostly wintertime heating but can generally rely on a passive cooling system in the summertime. By using radiant floor heating and personal level adjustable chilled sail generated by a geothermal heat pump, alongside high R-value envelope, this building is able to operate using very little energy: 13.8 EUI. The existing concrete structure is not only a historical facade but also a thermal mass that stores heat and facilitates stack ventilation. High ceiling volumes along east and west wall support natural ventilation in the summer.

Measure 5:  Light and Air

As lighting consumes around 44% of commercial building energy use in the US, this building is dedicated to reducing lighting energy use by maximizing daylight and employing LED fixtures. As a result, 100% of studio work surfaces can be daylit to minimum 300 lux in the overcast sky of a typical Seattle winter solstice, and consumes 0.51kW/sf to achieve the same illuminance value in the nighttime. Further energy saving can be achieved by utilizing automated occupancy and vacancy sensors. The resulting energy use is reduced by 80.7% compared to benchmark buildings. The cladding of the red boxes is a pattern generated to an optimal 35% transmittance that allows daylight in but cuts off direct beam sunlight and glare. Because the building is divided into west and east wings with a glass “nave” in the middle, 100% of occupied space in both wings has views to the sky and outside. The massing strategy works well with passive ventilation strategy in the summer when prevailing winds from south will dissipate the heat through a “stack effect.” In the summer, the nave operates as a large, linear chimney.

Measure 6:  Water Cycle

Underneath photovoltaic panels on each of the red boxes, parapets collect 100% of the rainfall into a 60,000 gallon cistern added along with the construction of geothermal pipes. The cistern also holds surface water from the adjacent residential neighborhood and Seattle University campus captured by a bio-swale on site. Then all water stored in the cistern is filtered to be used as toilet water.

Measure 7:  Energy Flows and Energy Future

On top of all the red boxes, a total of 10,640sf of PV panels generate 175,600kWh/year, thereby reducing the building’s energy use by 12.2 EUI. The angle of these PV Panels will be adjusted quarterly: summer at 18.9º; spring/fall at 43.8º; winter at 65.8º. In Seattle’s weather, the building is expected to generate more energy than it needs in the summer. This energy can be cycled into the city’s electric grid. 100% of the building’s heating and cooling is covered by a geothermal heat pump system. Warm water is circulated through the radiant floor in the winter for general heating. Cool water is circulated into chilled sail on the ceiling for and coordinated with passive ventilation system in the summer.

Measure 8:  Materials and Construction

This adaptive reuse project makes use of the existing structure as much as possible. The existing building is estimated to contain 221 tons of carbon:100% of the wood and 70% of the concrete remain in the new building. With new steel structure added, the new building has 355 tons of embodied carbon, of which 264 tons are materials that can be recycled in the future. The volume added to the existing building is intended to meet the current program, with continuous use of material palettes and size. The project is able to use a limited material palette achieving little construction material waste. Most materials such as concrete and steel is locally sourced to reduce carbon emission in transportation. During construction, the staging and waste area is located adjacent to the site, currently a parking lot, further saving time and energy in construction.

Measure 9:  Long Life, Loose Fit

The new building provides an extremely flexible floor plan. To accommodate flexible class sizes, the modular studio spaces have no partition walls between them. The gallery space is an open plan and can be arranged according to the exhibition. It can also be turned into classroom or studio in the future depending on need. For extending the life span of the existing concrete structure, concrete will be cleaned, patched and treated to avoid oxidation in the reinforcing steel inside. By transferring more than half of the original gravity and lateral load to the new steel structure, the stress on the existing concrete wall will be significantly reduced. A combination of spatial and structural durability ensures this project will stand the test of time.

Measure 10: Collective Wisdom and Feedback Loops

The design process of this project was collaborative involving physical study of design, digital analysis and quantification of its feasibility. Early physical models and hand drawings quickly generated ideas about space, air, light and composition. Digital analysis later helped in understanding the feasibility of those ideas in terms of sustainability and constructability. Then, the refined physical model was the most helpful way to visually understand and interact with peers, professor and reviewers. The use of digital analysis tools enabled the project to test the idea of sustainability in depth. Further refinement of the architectural concepts was made possible and developed into depth and simulated reality. Seamless workflow between physical design, which is still the fundamental skill architects should have, and digital design, which leads the way towards a newer architecture, is an indispensable key to succeed in sustainable integrated design.