Brittany Porter Dishes on the “Ice Box Challenge”

Two box structures, each filled with 1,200 pounds of ice, stand outside, exposed to the elements. One box is built to Washington building code, the other to the Passivhaus building standard. Which box will preserve its block of ice better over the course of 20 days? By how much? Will any ice at all be left when the boxes are opened?

This is the Ice Box Challenge, a public science experiment that demonstrates the efficacy, affordability, and achievability of Passivhaus buildings. The Challenge is here in Seattle right now thanks to the tenacity and volunteerism of NK Architects’ Brittany Porter and Katie Luedeman.

Seattle Ice Box Challenge
Curious passerby views 1,200 pounds of ice inside the Passivhaus box of Seattle Ice Box Challenge.

The Challenge officially kicks off tomorrow morning, September 9, as a Passive House NW exhibit at the Block Party of the Seattle Design Festival 2017, in Occidental Square. The boxes themselves, designed by Stark Architecture as part of a design competition for the Ice Box Challenge in Vancouver, BC this summer, were donated to Passive House NW by the City of Vancouver and Passive House Canada

NK Architects' Brittany Porter and Katie Luedeman
Brittany Porter (l) and Katie Luedeman (r)

Brittany and Katie worked with leaders in the BC Passivhaus community to get the boxes down to Seattle. Canadian Passivhaus builder Shaun St-Amour drove them across the border yesterday and joined Brittany, Katie, Lucas Johnson of 475, and several more from NK for an all-night Ice Box installation process. Many of them were at it until 5am in the morning.

Seattle Ice Box Challenge - Passive House box
Shaun St-Amour, a Passivhaus builder from British Columbia, applies "Building as Climate Action" decal.

Despite being a little bleary-eyed, Brittany was happy to speak with me today about what makes the Ice Box Challenge important, especially as part of Seattle Design Festival 2017:

"When I learned about the opportunity to bring Vancouver’s Ice Box Challenge down to Seattle, it seemed like a no brainer. We have so much to learn from what’s going on up in Vancouver. The whole building industry there has steadily been making Passivhaus the norm there, and there are so many great practitioners to learn from. Taking something they had already started and bringing it here just made so much sense.

"The fact that we’re bringing the Ice Box Challenge to the Seattle Design Festival is particularly exciting, because we really want to be able to share the message of the Passivhaus movement with designers who may be aware of the climate crisis but don’t know where to begin to do something about it.

"The theme of the Design Festival this year is “POWER,” so there’s this fun double-meaning to what we’re doing. We’re talking about saving power through the energy efficiency of Passivhaus, of course. But Passivhaus also empowers designers. Using the tools of Passivhaus, they can design a building exactly as they would like to, but also actually make a difference in energy performance. This kind of power is something that most people in the design community don’t know about yet. They don’t know how achievable Passivhaus is. They don’t know that it can be cost-effective. They don’t know that, in a lot of ways, all it takes is working closely with your builder. With these boxes, adding a little airtightness, insulation, and some high-quality windows will likely save 60-70% in ice melt. That kind of change is empowering. 

"And then of course, there’s the conceptual comparison to the design installation that occupied the same spot in the festival last year, that 10-ton block of melting ice. That installation was a visual metaphor for watching the icebergs and glaciers and ice caps melt from global warming. 

Melting ice at 2016 Seattle Design Festival
Last year's melting ice installation at the Seattle Design Festival

"Our Ice Box Challenge installation is not a metaphor at all. We’re showing an actual, tangible solution to climate change, showing the ice not melting. With very little effort, design can be part of the solution. And we implemented it with the same spirit of collaboration, positive energy, and optimism that you see in the Passivhaus community at large. Teamwork with the builder, with a lot of people in the movement up in Canada, and with support from sponsors made it all possible. So, it all got implemented with the same sort of inclusive process and spirit that we would bring to a Passivhaus building."

Seattle Ice Box Challenge
Buildings can help avoid catastrophic climate change and ice melt

NK Architects produced the Seattle Ice Box Challenge on behalf of Passive House NW with collaborating sponsorship support from Cascade Built, sponsorship support from 475 High Performance Building Supply, Small Planet Supply, Birdsmouth Construction, Evergreen Certified, Cascadia Windows and Doors, EuroLine Windows, SIGA Cover, BCIT High Performance Building Lab.

Our team received tremendous support and guidance from the City of Vancouver’s Brady Faught, architect and web developer Ryan McCuaig, and Passivhaus builder Shaun St-Amour, to name just a few generous Canadians. They helped with design of the exhibit infographics, modification of the “code box” to Washington code, transportation and installation of the boxes, and development of the website.

So, power of collaboration is also on display with the Seattle Ice Box Challenge. We hope you’ll come by and view the boxes between September 9 and 28! How much ice well remain by the 28th?