Architecture Firm: Weber Thompson

Owner: HessCallahanGrey Group

Location: Seattle

Project site: Previously developed land

Building program type(s): Office – 10,001 to 100,000sf

As one of the few buildings enrolled in Seattle’s Living Building Pilot Program, this building looks to move beyond incremental changes to achieve a better environment. Watershed is a regenerative seven-story office building making a profound positive effect on Seattle’s waterways, which suffer from a significant stormwater runoff problem that is affecting wildlife. Through strategies such as a series of bioswales that step down the site’s hillside, the building cleans more than 400,000 gallons of highly polluted water before it drains into nearby Lake Union. Inside its lobby, which is open to the public, visitors and tenants are kept informed of Watershed’s high performance through a digital dashboard, regular reports, and tours.


Diagram of the integrated building systems. Image: Weber Thompson

Stormwater Innovation (Design for Ecosystems + Equitable Communities)

Seattle has a stormwater problem. Untreated runoff from bridges, streets, and roofs transports toxic chemicals directly into the water surrounding Seattle. This creates a habitat crisis for the wildlife that share the urban waterways, specifically migrating salmon and their orca predators. Rather than adding to the problem, the Watershed team set out to design a regenerative project. It celebrates a story of community water conservation, reclamation, and treatment through the design of the building and its public outdoor spaces. Verdant bioswales stepping down a hillside, a large cantilevered shed roof, a reactive glass facade perched over an engaging streetscape: These design decisions provide the opportunity for a new office building to positively impact the neighborhood and region. The bioswales filter stormwater from the adjacent streets and Aurora Bridge while providing a green respite to the public. An annual 400,000 gallons of highly polluted runoff is cleaned before draining into Lake Union.

Rainwater Harvesting & Reduced Water Use (Design for Water + Economy)

The overhanging roof captures on-site rainwater (200,000 gallons per year), conveying it via a cascading downspout system to a sculptural steel scupper before storing it in a 20,000-gallon cistern for nonpotable uses. The rainwater is filtered and reused for toilets, urinals, and minimal on-site irrigation. With efficient plumbing fixtures and tenant participation, this contributes to an 88% reduction in potable water. This is measured and monitored as a requirement of Seattle's Living Building Pilot Program, a unique land use incentive program that rewards actual building performance with additional height, area, and expedited permits. Reinforcing a connection to the water cycle, the exterior lobby opens to the sky, welcoming falling rain and connecting us more immediately to the weather. On the wall, a quote from Benjamin Franklin reminds us: “When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” The project received Salmon Safe certification and anticipates the Living Building Challenge Petal Certification in 2023, with a focus on materials, place, and beauty.

Living Materials (Design for Well-being + Resources)

Construction materials were vetted to avoid toxic chemicals, encourage manufacturer transparency, reduce embodied carbon, and support the regional economy through local sourcing. A refined natural material palette supports this requirement while connecting to the Pacific Northwest ecology.

Education, Inspiration, and Feedback (Design for Energy + Economy + Discovery)

With an energy use intensity measured at 28.2 kBtu/sf/year, this speculative market-rate building proves that high-performance architecture doesn’t need to be expensive. The impact of this project affects more than its occupants; it shows how a new building can reach beyond its site and contribute to community and ecosystem health. The public can clearly see the ecological function of the building. The bioswales, sculptural channels, water feature, and digital dashboard inform occupants and visitors about progress toward annual water and energy use goals. Tenants receive regular reports so that they can adjust their use to meet the building’s targets. Educational signage, interpretive art, and tours inspire others to evaluate their environmental impacts and develop their own high-performance projects.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2018

Year of substantial project completion: 2020

Gross conditioned floor area: 59,011 sq. ft.

Number of stories: 7

Project site: Previously developed land

Project site context/setting: Urban

Annual hours of operation: 2,600

Site area: 20,292 sq. ft.

Total annual users: 501

Project team

Building Envelope: Allana Buick & Bers

Curtain Wall: Mission Glass

Display Design: RMB Vivid, Inc

Electrochromic Glazing: View Glass, installed by Mission Interactive

Engineer - Civil: kpff MEP Design, Built Ecology: WSP

Engineer - Structural: DCI Engineers

Engineer: Transportation: Heffron Transportation, Inc

Landscape Architecture: Weber Thompson

Living Building Consultant: Skanska

MEP Subcontractors: Sequoyah Electric, Emerald Aire, JH Kelly

Specifications: Applied Building Information

Steel Fabricator: Metals Fabrication CompanyConcrete: Turner Concrete


Katie Ackerly, AIA, Chair, David Baker, Oakland, Calif.

Julian Owens, Assoc. AIA, Jacobs, Arlington, Va.

Seonhee Kim, AIA, Design Collective, Baltimore

Avinash Rajagopal, Metropolis, New York

Image credits

Watershed’s bioswales clean over 400,000 highly polluted gallons of water annually, much from the overhead Aurora Bridge, before that water flows into Lake Union, affecting migrating salmon.

Built Work Photography

Watershed is a commercial office building in Seattle that is pursuing Living Building Certification. The building is also Salmon-Safe Certified.

Built Work Photography

Verdant bioswales step down the hillside along Watershed providing ample break out spaces for pedestrian to sit, as well as education signage that tells the building’s water story.

Built Work Photography

Interior spaces are marked by extensive daylighting, expansive views and operable windows. Level Two is a FitWell 3 Star Certified space.

Built Work Photography

Bees living on Watershed’s rooftop are fed through pollinator plants in the bioswales.

Built Work Photography