Bertschi Living Building

Science Wing – a Living Classroom

The Science Wing is a 3,380-square-foot interactive science classroom and grounds that is the fourth project in the world ever to fully certify under the Living Building Challenge (LBC). This rating system recognizes projects that have proven over a year of operation that they can generate as much energy as they use, capture as much water as they use, and meet more than a dozen additional strict requirements. In addition, the Bertschi project is the first to meet the standards of the LBC version 2.0 and is the first certified Living Building in Washington State.

The Bertschi School is located in the urban neighborhood of Capital Hill in Seattle. The new science building includes a 276-square-foot attached greenhouse called the Ecohouse. The Ecohouse has a ground floor, mezzanine and an 18-foot-high greenwall. The whole project achieves self-sufficiency by generating all of its own energy with a 20 killowatt photovoltaic system, harvesting rainwater for irrigation and flushing the composting toilet, infiltrating all rainwater on site and operating at maximum levels of efficiency with a healthy indoor environment. The grounds incorporate an urban agriculture element, with a learning garden and an outdoor classroom, where students can harvest and learn about native huckleberries, wild strawberries and other vegetation.

O’Brien & Company has played a key role in understanding and translating the Living Building Challenge rating system for the design team and school. Our staff provided technical assistance and research into rigorous requirements for green materials, and provided quality assurance on the required documentation to ensure that the project would be successful in achieving its certification. Because this rating system is still new and evolving, O’Brien & Company also assisted the International Living Future Institute in clarifying the documentation requirements which will make it easier for future projects to certify.

O’Brien & Company joined KMD Architects in a multi-disciplinary team called the Restorative Design Collective, contributing pro-bono services to the project. The Restorative Design Collective is a group of Seattle-area design professionals who share the desire to keep themselves and their firms at the forefront of the sustainable building movement, meeting the 2030 Challenge and creating net-zero buildings.

The new science classroom is available for tours to institutions as well as the public, to inspire and educate fellow building professionals, teachers, students and the community at-large about revolutionary sustainable design practices and green building materials. See photos and learn more about the project at the Bertschi School’s web site and the International Living Future Institute’s case study.


  • Living Building Challenge Full Certification v2.0 (All 20 Imperatives)
  • AIA National 2012 CAE Educational Facility Design Award
  • AIA Seattle What Makes It Green 2012
  • USGBC Best of Green Schools 2012
  • ED+C 2012 Excellence in Design
  • Sustainable Buildings Industry Council Beyond Green High Performance Building 2011
  • Design and Build with FSC Award 2011
  • Washington Association of Landscape Architecture 2011
  • American General Contractors Alliant Build America Award 2011
  • NAIOP Private Education Development of the Year 2012