200 Occidental: Sustainable Future of Historic Pioneer Square

Date Posted: 03.24.2016

By Bill LaPatra

There is nothing ordinary about the origins of 200 Occidental. Urban Visions, a one-of-a-kind developer with deep roots in Pioneer Square, conceived the project with an equal focus on sustainability and the bottom line. With a fantastic location flanking Seattle’s historic Occidental Park, the structure would be the missing piece completing the park’s ring of graceful buildings. It was envisioned to last a hundred years, to fit within its historic context, yet to be true to its times, and to lead, by example, renewal of the Pioneer Square neighborhood.

With these aspirations, 200 Occidental came to fruition when Weyerhaeuser chose to lease this building for its new world headquarters.

Daylight Benefits

The 213,000 square foot structure is quickly taking shape with its frame completed. Now being clad in glass and brick, large parts of the frame will remain visible through expansive curtainwall facing the park. Instead of the nine floors that could fit within the allowed building height, and common among other new projects in this part of town, Urban Visions chose to build eight floors with higher ceilings. As a result, the building will be filled with daylight that will shine deep into the space, energizing the people inside and reducing the need for artificial lighting. True to its beliefs and with Mithun’s encouragement, Urban Visions chose employee health and creativity and quality over quantity.

Healthy Headquarters

Operable windows enhance the healthy and appealing work environment at 200 Occidental. Mithun’s team of architects and interior designers were especially enthusiastic about this strategy, as the firm is located in a building that relies on natural ventilation for cooling. And, independent studies show people are perfectly willing to accept a wider indoor temperature range, to wear short sleeves or to put on a sweater, if they feel in control of their environment.

Weyerhaeuser embraced the proposal for operable windows, and the design team worked collaboratively to find a holistic solution. Realizing that operable windows needed to function hand-in-hand with the mechanical system, the design team proposed a simple and effective email notification system that will alert the building occupants about the need to open or close the windows before the perimeter zone of the HVAC system shuts down or turns on.

Communicating stairs are a prominent feature in Weyerhaeuser’s new headquarters, located in the bay window projecting over the main building entry. This active design strategy entices people to take the stairs and enjoy the best view in the house. Additionally, movement of people through the stairs creates visual connection between the building and the park. Other important features that contribute to a healthy work environment include no- or low-VOC interior finish materials, as well as ample bike parking and showers.

Certifiably Green

It is not unusual for project teams to set ambitious goals in the beginning only to see them fade as the reality of budgets and other constraints sets in. Thanks to Urban Visions’ and the entire team’s unwavering commitment to sustainability, 200 Occidental became a case study in deep green design thinking as it traded the initial goal of LEED Gold certification for pursuing LEED Platinum, the highest available level of LEED certification that the USGBC offers. In addition, Weyerhaeuser’s new headquarters is targeting Green Globes certification.

Sustainable Attraction

Many of the sustainable design features are the same qualities that make this project attractive to its occupants. The enclosed rooftop recreational space will offer meeting and informal gathering rooms with panoramic views of the city and Elliott Bay. Open areas of the main roof will include terraces and gardens for people to recharge or walk a few loops around the roof perimeter. The rooftop gardens with a mix of meadow plants and sedums will slow down the flow of stormwater, and the penthouse roof will support a sizeable solar array.

The design team took a truly holistic approach and emphasized collaboration to optimize building performance within budget. To a large degree, many of the rooftop features became possible thanks to reliance on a highly efficient dedicated outside air, variable refrigerant flow (VRF) HVAC system, that required little rooftop space in comparison with other alternatives. High-performance glazing, effective insulation, and all-LED lighting contributed to reduction of the HVAC system size by lowering peak cooling loads.

Wood is Good

The sustainable benefits of wood will be evident throughout the tenant space. Wood will not only contribute natural beauty and warmth of the interiors, but also will tell the story of Weyerhaeuser’s business and commitment to sustainable forestry. Mithun embraced the client’s desire to showcase its products and incorporated the company’s lumber materials, OSB, and parallam beams as flooring, wall, and ceiling finish in key areas. Regionally sourced and renewable lumber will be featured in the core interior spaces and used in a number of furniture pieces throughout the design.

Central Vision

Weyerhaeuser’s new headquarters is centrally located in Seattle’s oldest neighborhood and a short walk away from a multi-modal public transportation hub. With its reliance on transit, despite bringing more than 600 employees into the area, the project will include only one parking level and is anticipated to have minimal impact on road congestion. Weyerhaeuser is actively supporting employees to commute via non-single car modes.

There is a unique relationship between 200 Occidental and its surroundings. It is a study in contrasts between the old and the new, between the complex history of the neighborhood and the strong sense of optimism prompted by recent significant improvements and reinforced by Weyerhaeuser’s decision to relocate here. The success of the project is grounded in shared vision and collaboration to produce a truly sustainable building that will be enjoyed by its inhabitants and passersby alike for many years to come.

A version of this article appeared in the Daily Journal of Commerce 2016 Building Green special edition.