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A Model of Integrated Design: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus


In the heart of Seattle, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the wealthiest private foundation in the world, with assets of more than $34 billion, opened a new campus with little fanfare last year. Winning a rare LEED Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, the building is a model of integrated design. Symbiotic landscape and building systems harvest rainwater, reduce potable water use, maximize solar use, and minimize energy use overall. Native plants, local materials, and "natural processes" were used by the architects, NBBJ, and landscape architects, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, throughout the site. 

Working with the Gates, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol replaced a parking lot with a man-made landscape inspired by Seattle's natural landscape. GGN Design Partner, Shannon Nichol, ASLA, said: "The materials and functions of the landscape are informed by the site's distinct natural history, as a dark-watered bog in a plateau meadow that absorbed and filtered rainwater." However, perhaps the less-appealing aspects of the natural bog have been omitted: A plush campus landscape, filled with native plants like blueberries and Big Leaf Maples, surround a central courtyard said to "float" in a water gardens filled with reeds and cattails.


All rainwater is smartly captured and reused on site. Rainwater is captured and filtered by a two acres of green roofs. Any runoff from paved aspects of the campus are channeled into a "million-gallon cistern," which fills the water gardens and is used to irrigate the site. GGN says these systems were crucial to achieving the LEED Platinum rating: "These systems, along with efficient plumbing fixtures, reduce the campus's potable water use by nearly 80 percent, saving approximately two million gallons of potable water per year." The site now mimizes potable water use in the grounds, with the eventual goal of completely eliminating potable water use in the landscape.


The campus buildings also uses 25 percent less energy than code requirements, incorporates recycled and local materials, and provides ample sunlight to the foundation's employees and visitors.  


Another nice aspect: The campus gives a boost to the streetscape of downtown Seattle. Keeping the city's grid in place, the Gates Foundation improves the public street design, perhaps offering visitors a preview of the careful design extended into the visitor's center, which offers exhibits for the Seattle community and tourists.


Nichol added that the campus manifests in landscape form the Gates' mission: "The environmental qualities of the campus landscape are the natural outcome of designing for the Foundation's strong philosophy of 'local roots and global vision'."

Learn more about the campus and watch a fly-through.

Image credits: (1) Timothy Hursley, (2) Sein Airhart / NBBJ, (3) Sein Airhart / NBBJ, (4) Sein Airhart / NBBJ, (5) Gustafson Guthrie Nichol