Army Corps of Engineers Transforms Old Warehouse into High Tech Showcase

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It looks like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) gets bragging rights to one of the most energy-efficient office buildings in the entire country. The USACE Seattle District has just moved into its new headquarters, formerly the site of a 1940’s-era warehouse. Originally host to a nondescript, one-story sprawling box like thousands of others that populate the industrial landscape, the site is now a showcase for cutting edge conservation technology like geothermal energy, rainwater harvesting, and thermal storage.

USACE LEED office building in Seattle

A LEED Gold Building for the USACE

The new Federal Center South Building 1202 is located on Marginal Way in Seattle. It conforms to LEED Gold standards and the USACE is aiming for Platinum. It’s already on track for an Energy Star score of 100.

The new building will use about one-fifth of the energy compared to other air-conditioned office buildings in the region, thanks partly to the use of a stored cold-energy system that reduces the load on cooling equipment.

The heating and cooling system also incorporates geothermal energy through new, deeper structural piles that replaced the relatively shallow piling of the original structure.

LEED Improvements for Everyone

Along with the high-tech improvements, the project includes a number of conservation measures that are more widely applicable to commercial sites as well as residential buildings.

A rooftop harvesting system collects rainwater and stores it in a 25,000 gallon cistern, to be used for flushing toilets and irrigation.

The new building replaces the rectangular footprint of the original structure with a U-shaped plan around a central atrium. The new design, by ZGF Architects LLP in partnership with Sellen Construction, provides daylighting to 90 percent of the building.

The overall site plan restored about half of the original paved and built surfaces to porous green spaces. Aside from building better stormwater management into the site, the landscaping also helps to alleviate the heat island effect (not such a big deal in rainy Seattle, but every bit helps).

The new building was also constructed with a total of about 300,000 board feet of structural timber and decking reclaimed from the old structure.

USACE Takes LEED on the Road

Under a 2010 directive, USACE is committed to observing LEED standards throughout its projects. The Seattle project is just one energy efficient feather in its cap. Another example is the new billion-dollar office complex at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, which sports a green roof and cyclist-friendly shower rooms, among many other green features.

The LEED policy applies to Department of Defense facilities overseas, and USACE is working to comply with local standards that are even more strict.

In Germany, USACE has undertaken a pilot project to adjust LEED standards to conform with German standards, for construction of a new Child Development Center. German certification includes a heavy dose of factors that are not currently part of LEED, including the building’s lifecycle costs, flexibility for growth or change, and use by other parties.

With high profile projects like these, USACE has positioned itself as a leader and role model for the private sector construction industry. That includes not only a commitment to green building standards, but also a commitment to core sustainability principles.

Before his retirement last year, former USACE commanding general Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp summed up USACE’s sustainability policy with a quote from a former commander who said, “Environmental ethics and values must be more than an overlay.  They must be a bone-deep part of our way of doing business.”

Image: Courtesy of ZGF Architects LLP

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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