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Rain flushes toilets at Robert Redford building

The Redford building houses the Natural Resources Defense Council's office in Santa Monica, California.
The Redford building houses the Natural Resources Defense Council's office in Santa Monica, California.

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SANTA MONICA, California (Reuters) -- In the Robert Redford Building, toilets flush themselves with rainwater -- except for the urinals, which use no water at all -- the floors are made of bamboo and the carpets from hemp.

All of which help make it, the actor said during a dedication ceremony in the Los Angeles municipality of Santa Monica, one of the "greenest" buildings in America and a glimpse into the environmentally friendly future.

"This building to me is a model of our sustainable future," the Oscar-winning actor and filmmaker said last week as he cut an appropriately green ribbon on its terrace and the James Taylor song "Steamroller" played softly in the background.

Though the three-story, gray clapboard-style structure is largely unremarkable from the outside, Redford and the National Resources Defense Council activists who will work there call it a showcase of sustainable urban architecture.

The building's exterior appears to be wood but is made of a fiber and cement material. Much of the interior is lit with skylights and solar cells that provide about a fifth of its energy. Cool sea breezes augment the air conditioning and special towers draw off heat.

The structure uses about 60 percent less water than most buildings because it captures rainwater from the roof, showers and sinks and uses it to water the plants and flush the low-flow toilets. The urinals use a special cartridge to funnel away wastewater.

Inside, floors are made of bamboo because it is a fast-growing "wood substitute." The carpets are hemp -- though not the kind that can be smoked. State-of-the-art fixtures consume less energy and some of the furniture was donated by the props department of the Warner Bros. film studio. (Time-Warner is parent company of Warner Bros. and

The 15,000 square foot structure, originally built in 1917, was stripped down to its wooden skeleton and rebuilt as an example of urban renewal. It is completely free of formaldehyde and vinyl, and office machines that can emit fumes are confined to a room that vents to the outside.

Redford, a longtime environmental activist born and raised in Santa Monica, said the building symbolized a step forward for the conservation movement, which he said had been dealt setbacks by the Bush administration.

"We are now suffering through an administration that has, in a very calculating way, set out to undermine and destroy 30 years of hard work," he said.

"There's never been a time in my life when I've felt so challenged as a country, so challenged on the environment, as we are now."

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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