The Sustainable Campus (Trends and Innovations)

The Living Building at Georgia Tech

Living Building

IMAGE COURTESY OF OF LORD AECK SARGENT IN COLLABORATION WITH THE MILLER HULL PARTNERSHIP

The Georgia Institute of Technology is embarking upon an ambitious undertaking — The Living Building Challenge — to build what is expected to become the most environmentally advanced education and research building ever constructed in the Southeast. With a $30 million commitment from The Kendeda Fund, a leading philanthropic investor in civic and environmental programs, to construct and operate the approximately 40,000-square-foot building, the Living Building at Georgia Tech will significantly advance the Institute’s Campus Master Plan as well as its educational and research mission.

“The Living Building Challenge aligns with our longstanding vision for the campus and provides a unique opportunity to physically demonstrate how Georgia Tech practices thoughtful stewardship of all of our resources and how our innovative thinking can transform future generations,” says Steve Swant, executive vice president for Administration and Finance.

Given the Southeast’s heat, humidity, and variable fresh water supplies, the development of any building aiming for net positive energy and water consumption brings unique challenges. Building a facility that meets Living Building Challenge criteria will provide the opportunity to create a living-learning laboratory for hands-on educational and research opportunities that will be a model for the region and similar environments around the world.

The Inherent Challenges of a Living Building

Achieving Living Building Challenge certification requires close adherence to some of the world’s most stringent building performance standards. This includes meeting obvious requirements like managing water and energy, but also the not-so-obvious specifications like supporting health, happiness, equity and beauty. To achieve full certification, a Living Building must meet all the program requirements established by the International Living Future Institute (living-future.org) over a 12-month period of continued operations and full occupancy. According to the project timeline, the Living Building at Georgia Tech is expected to achieve certification in 2020.

Fundamentally, Living Buildings serve as catalysts to help reshape how we think about the built environment and its interaction with our immediate surroundings through innovations and adaptations in technology, education, policy and cultural beliefs.

Building a Solid Foundation

With construction anticipated to begin later this year, much of 2016 was dedicated to building the solid foundation necessary for a successful project. The design team of Lord Aeck Sargent and The Miller Hull Partnership was selected after an extensive three month ideas competition. Skanska USA, a company experienced in successfully delivering projects according to the stringent building requirements of the Living Building Challenge, was selected to construct the Living Building at Georgia Tech.

In December 2016, Georgia Tech’s Planning and Design Commission approved the schematic design, which promotes flexible space with purpose. Plans include a 170-seat auditorium. The building will also feature two 75-person classrooms and an open collaboration area — complete with maker space — adjacent to the soon-to-be developed Eco-Commons. While the upper rooftop will contain a 260 kW (approximately) photovoltaic array to harness the sun’s energy, a lower occupiable roof will feature a rooftop garden complete with honeybee apiary and pollinator garden.

Another key principle of the project is that simplicity rules even when employing the best available technologies. Choosing materials, mapping out the interior structure, and understanding how to best leverage sunlight are examples of incorporating basic design principles that are effective and can be easily repeated on other projects.

Community engagement is another cornerstone of the project. Thought leaders both in and outside the classroom are collaborating to understand how they, too, can apply the principles of the Living Building Challenge to positively influence today’s and tomorrow’s generation of planners, designers and builders. In the past year, both the College of Design and College of Engineering have begun incorporating Living Building Challenge principles into the class curriculum, with the goal of expanding offerings in the near future.

For more on the Living Building at Georgia Tech, including updates on the project, visit livingbuilding.gatech.edu and livingbuilding.kendedafund.org.

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Rachael Pocklington is communications manager for Institute Communications at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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