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Ballard Library's Green and Solar Topping

Credits: ©2010 Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Architects

Photovoltaic modules attract and convert solar energy to power, helping to reduce the building's electricity requirements. Sixteen RWE Schott Solar 300 watt poly-crystalline modules and two SMA Sunny Boy 2500 240VAC inverters provide 4.8 kilowatts DC peak capacity to this grid-tied system. In addition to the PVs on the roof, the Ballard Library in Seattle used the first application – in 2005 - of thin-film solar cells integrated into a portion of the south and west-facing glass units surrounding the adjacent Neighborhood Service Center. By intercepting the sun, these cells provide critical shading of the glass windows while allowing just enough light to penetrate and illuminate the space. An extensive sod roof provides roof insulation and helps retain rainwater to slow stormwater flows, using more than 18,000 low-water-use plants atop the sweeping roof. Also on the roof are scientific devices that measure wind speed and direction, sunlight and the sound of rain. The resulting weather data then becomes artwork in LED displays and an audio composition of Ballard-area sounds. Many other green architecture and environmentally friendly features abound in this green building such as low-VOC coatings, waterless urinals in restrooms and light wells in the parking garage that provide pools of natural light to help with way-finding and security.


Ballard Library Vegetated Roof

The roof top planting on the Ballard Library in Seattle is a mix of self-sustaining, drought tolerant, indigenous grasses and sedums planted to mimic a broadcasting of seeds by the wind. Designed with mainly fescue and sedum type plants, which minimize any additional maintenance requirements, the vegetated roof uses four-to-six inches of growing medium. It was blown onto the roof, and a biodegradable coconut fiber mat helped the plants during the establishment period by reducing wind and water erosion. ©2006 American Hydrotech

Timber and Steel
In Ballard, a new branch Seattle Public Library is a showcase of eco-efficient architecture.

By Kirsten DeLara, April 2005, Seattle Weekly

A ship's bow, a periscope, an unruly crown of lawn—could it be a boneyard for boats? An innovative work of art? Actually, it's the new Ballard library, the 15th branch to be built or renovated under Seattle's "Libraries for All" bond measure. It boldly blends elements of Ballard's heritage with cutting-edge environmental technology. Opening Saturday, May 14, it might be the "greenest" building in town. It's certainly unique among the city's branch libraries. Consider it a gift for Earth Day, which is Friday, April 22.

The new Ballard Branch has a huge, upwardly arched roof supported by enormous wood rafters, which cantilever out to cover the building, an attached neighborhood center, and outdoor community space. At the northwest corner, there is a tall, curved structure covered in galvanized-steel shingles. It looks like a ship's bow; closer inspection reveals it is a meeting room.

The new (2005) building, on 22nd Avenue Northwest, a block north of Northwest Market Street, is the result of an ambitious effort by the Seattle Public Library, architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, and Ballard neighborhood residents to push the limits of green design and education. Some of the highlights include:

• An 18,000-square-foot sod roof, which provides thermal insulation, serves as bird habitat, and moderates rain runoff. Any water not used by plants is filtered through the soil and slowly released.

• Two types of solar collectors: standard roof-mounted panels and an innovative model that uses photovoltaic glazing inside vertical panes of glass. Both collect solar energy, which is fed back into the city's electricity grid, reducing the project's reliance on power supplied by Seattle City Light.

• Functional public art that monitors and displays data about the microclimate around the structure. Wind direction and speed, energy use, light, and rainfall are artistically presented along building spines.

• High air quality through use of recycled materials and by applying internal finishes outside the building, which will reduce interior "off-gassing" by building-material chemicals. Air intakes are positioned to exploit prevailing breezes.

• Conservation of old-growth trees. The 1-and-a-half-foot wood beams are actually smaller pieces of yellow pine glued together, enabling use of smaller lumber.

• Pedestrian-friendly touches. Twenty-Second Avenue was rezoned as a pedestrian-oriented street. Librarians will encourage ride sharing, public transportation, bicycling, and walking.

The project began in 1999 with the first of many community meetings. Residents discussed the merits and drawbacks of nine potential building sites and remained involved throughout the process. In 2000, at another meeting, residents helped evaluate architectural firms. In 2001, the Ballard Library Project Advisory Committee was formed, composed of local residents, architects, business owners, and artists. Later that year, residents attended a community meeting to communicate their concerns and educate the architects about Ballard. In 2003, residents viewed the design of the new branch and neighborhood service center prior to approval by the Seattle Design Commission. In February 2004, construction began.

When construction commenced, the builder, PCL Construction Services, faced a number of challenges incorporating some of the green technologies, one of which was the roof. Kyle Richardson, PCL's project manager, knows the numbers well: 644,000 pounds of dirt and 85,000 pounds of bark mulch under a coconut-fiber membrane. Inserted into that were 13,540 plants— 11 species. A plastic egg-crate retention system under the dirt will hold 1 and a half inches of water over the whole roof, ready for plant intake. And if it doesn't rain? A soaker-hose irrigation system was installed, in case of drought.

Another challenge on the roof was sloping. While sod roofs are normally flat, this one resembles a very relaxed "U." Along the highest part, a bank of solar panels was installed to take advantage of southern exposure. The unevenness of the roof creates some microclimates, with the higher slopes draining more quickly and the valleys exposed to divergent sun and wind conditions. Says David Kunselman, Ballard project manager for the Seattle Public Library: "In designing the roof and [installing] different species of plants, we wanted to let Darwin take over. If certain species want to go in another area, or if they wanted to take over some other species, go ahead." A periscope near the circulation desk gives patrons a way of keeping an eye on things up there.

The trickiest installation for PCL, however, was setting up the photovoltaic windows in the neighborhood service center, one of the first such installations in the U.S. Imported from Germany, the flat glass panes are mounted to form a curve, to take in the most sunlight possible throughout the day. As the sun moves, the panes will each generate a different level of energy. Voltage meters were mounted in the neighborhood center to display the output from each of the three-pane windows. The glazing on the panes eliminates the need for shades, creates privacy, and reduces overheating from direct sunlight. Says Kunselman, "We'll be generating a measurable amount of electricity, but the intention is to really let people know what can be done in the Northwest with solar technology. It's a great opportunity when you layer on these things, enough different items, grab people's attention, and make things right for the building and the environment. It's a rich environment for people to step into. They might not see it the first time, but then they come back and it's different—it's not a static environment."

This ambitiously green library is right in line with the High Performance Green Buildings Act signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire on April 8, 2005. Washington is the first state requiring new public buildings over 5,000 square feet in size to meet standards for water conservation and energy efficiency. The Ballard library branch is 15,000 square feet.

Because it's a public building, the Seattle Public Library used an expert design team and consultants to weigh the environmentally correct thing to do against protecting public investment and the longevity of the building. The only unproven element, officials say, is the solar-energy collecting windowpanes.

Seattle City Light's "green power" program paid for the rooftop solar panels and the film glazing between the glass panels, as well as provided technical support for the system's installation. The library project had to undergo an evaluation process to see if it met Seattle City Light's goals. Was it a demonstration project? Could it educate the public on the possibilities to generate green power? Concludes Kunselman: "We have every expectation that it will work well, but if it doesn't, we still have the nice shading in the windows."

So what was the extra cost of going green? Officials say there was none. The library was finished a bit early and on budget at $10.9 million. Costs would have been higher without the Seattle City Light program. But by choosing elements that serve multiple purposes—the glazing replaced the need for shades, for example—the architects were able to keep costs down.

Robert Miller, the project manager for Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, is proud of the design elements used to increase environmental awareness and energy sustainability. "This building has a lot of merit in its ability to teach people about the environment and some of the priorities we set for ourselves in the Pacific Northwest. . . . Things people can do to save energy, renewable energy sources like solar, how to use daylighting, airflow for natural ventilation, and nontoxic materials. Libraries are always depositories of knowledge, and we wanted this building to be more of a teaching tool, in addition to its normal function."

Vegetated Roof
Installed: 2005

Type of vegetated roof: Extensive, Test/Research

Size: 20,500 sq.ft.

Slope: 8 percent

Designers/Manufacturers of Record:

Architect: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Landscape Architect: Swift & Co.

Greenroof System: American Hydrotech

Hydrotech Applicators: Krueger Sheet Metal

General Contractor: PCL Construction Services

Vegetated roof system designer American Hydrotech reports that the vegetated roof was incorporated as part of an overall strategy to reduce and conserve energy costs where possible. Solar (photovoltaic) panels provided by the Seattle City Light Green Power Panel, installed on the northern edge of the roof, will monitor the amount of electricity captured and collected onsite. Energy generated from these panels is fed back in to the city’s power grid, reducing the Library’s energy bills. Additionally, various rooftop sensors measure wind speed, direction, sunlight, etc. The gently curving roof is visible from the periscope and observation deck and invites visitors to engage in the living roof’s ecology above the street. The project presents the community with an example of benefits realized when sustainable design combines with extraordinary architecture. The Ballard Library won the 2006 Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Award of Excellence in the Extensive Institutional Category.

According to American Hydrotech, Because the site is in an urban setting, the challenge was to develop the site in a restorative manner. Formerly home to a bank and a parking lot, hardscape comprised 100% of the lot coverage. Today, combined with the green roof and planters at the building perimeter, the hardscape has been reduced to 20 percent of the lot coverage. The seamless waterproofing membrane used for the green roof project, Monolithic Membrane 6125®EV-FR (fabric reinforced, environmental grade, 25 percent recycled content), is a hot fluid-applied, rubberized asphalt that forms a long-lasting, tenacious bond to the substrate. MM6125EV-FR’s unique formulation, which includes inert clay fillers, provides excellent resistance to acids and fertilizers.

Plant list:

Achillea tomentosa — Woolly yarrow

Armeria maritima — Sea pink, sea thrift

Carex inops (pensylvanica) — Long-stoloned sedge

Eriphyllum lanatum — Oregon sunshine

Festuca rubra —Red creeping fescue

Festuca idahoensis — Idaho fescue

Phlox subulata — Creeping phlox

Saxifrage cespitosa — Tufted saxifrage

Sedum oreganum — Oregon stonecrop

Sedum album — White stonecrop

Sedum spurium — Two-row stonecrop

Sisyrinchium idahoensis — Blue-eyed grass

Thymus serphyllum — Thyme

Triteleia hyacintha — Fool's onion

Visitors may view the green roof from a periscope in the Ballard Branch.

Construction Facts and Milestones
• Replace the 7,296-square-foot branch, which was built in 1963.

• The new branch has an updated collection, more seats, expanded reference areas, larger areas for children and young adults, more computers, a meeting room and underground parking.

• The building also includes the 3,100-square-foot Ballard Neighborhood Service Center 

Quick facts
• Project type: Replace existing branch

• Completion date: 2005

• Budget for capital costs: $10.6 million

• Total library program area: 15,000 square feet (formerly 7,296 square feet)

• Computers: 37 (formerly 13)

• Artists: Donald Fels, Andrew Schloss, Dale Stammen

• Art budget: $57,672

• Library Board steward: Linda Larson

• Architect: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

• Contractor: PCL Construction Services Inc. 

• May 2005: The new Ballard Branch of The Seattle Public Library and the Ballard Neighborhood Service Center opened at noon Saturday, May 14.

• April 2005: The old Ballard Branch at 5711 24th Ave. N.W. closed April 10, to allow the Library to move operations to the new branch.

• February 2004: Construction began on the new branch and the neighborhood service center.

• December 2003: The Seattle Design Commission commended the Library for design excellence and innovation for the building design.

• April 2003: The Seattle Design Commission approved design development plans and said the project did not need additional review.

• March 2003: Residents attended a public meeting to see the building design.

• October 2002: The Seattle Design Commission approved schematic design plans for the new building.

• July 2002: U.S. Bank decided not to participate in a mixed-use project that would have included the new library, the neighborhood service center and a bank branch. Instead, U.S. Bank will move its Ballard branch to a new location.

• May 2002: Residents attended a public meeting to see the first images of the new library and neighborhood service center. The Seattle Design Commission approved conceptual design plans for the project.

• September 2001: The Library signed an agreement with U.S. Bank to buy the bank's property at 22nd Avenue Northwest and Northwest 57th Street for the new library and neighborhood service center. The site also will accommodate a U.S. Bank branch.

• June 2001: Residents attended a "hopes and dreams" meeting to share ideas on design, collections, programs and artwork for the new branch and neighborhood service center.

• May 2001: The Seattle Public Library board of trustees selected Fall City artist Donald Fels to design artwork for the new branch.

• April 2001: As an outgrowth of Ballard's municipal center master planning process, residents and business owners, Library staff members and representatives of other city agencies formed the Ballard Library Project Advisory Committee to articulate the community's goals before design begins.

• September 2000: The Library Board identified a site currently occupied by U.S. Bank at 22nd Avenue Northwest and Northwest 57th Street as its first preference for the site of the new branch. The Library and U.S. Bank are exploring siting the bank, the library and a neighborhood service center on the property.

• March 2000: The Library Board selected the architectural firm of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson to design the new branch. Earlier in the month, about 150 community members met architect finalists at a reception.

• November 1999: The Library Board narrowed to three the list of potential sites for the new branch.

• October 1999: Residents discussed the opportunities and challenges of six sites at a community meeting to talk about where to build the new branch. The Library added to the list three more sites that residents proposed.

• November 1998: Seattle voters approved the $196.4 million "Libraries for All" bond measure. The bond money, which could be used only for construction of libraries, funded a new Central Library and new and improved branches.

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