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 (GGN), throughout the site. 

Working with the Gates, GGN replaced a parking lot with a man-made landscape inspired by Seattle’s natural setting. 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.” But here, 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.


Rainwater is smartly captured and reused on site by 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 technologies 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 minimizes potable water use in the landscape, with the eventual goal of completely eliminating potable water use for irrigation.


The campus buildings also use 25 percent less energy than code requirements, incorporate recycled and local materials, and provide ample sunlight to the foundation’s employees and visitors.  


Another nice aspect of this project: 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 believes 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

One thought on “A Model of Integrated Design: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus

  1. kaemba mwale 01/31/2012 / 10:23 pm

    The advent of the green economy offers Africa and the rest of the developing world, a last and rare opportunity equity in economic practice. Quit awaiting the trumpet. Kaemba

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