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Living Building Challenge: A Tool for Transformative Thought

By Hope Gribble, Education & Green Schools Manager,
U.S. Green Building Council-Missouri Gateway Chapter

Inspirational. Harmonious. Restorative. Regenerative. Beautiful. Living Buildings aim to provide much more than shelter. They are designed and built to a performance standard that “calls for the creation of building projects at all scales that operate as cleanly, beautifully and efficiently as nature’s architecture” (www.living-future.org/living-building-challenge.)

Launched in 2006, and now in its third version, the Living Building Challenge provides a framework for rethinking buildings and their relationship with the communities that they are a part of. The program bills itself as a philosophy first, an advocacy tool second, and a certification program third. It is comprised of twenty ‘Imperatives’ which projects must address within seven performance areas, or ‘Petals’: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty.

Practices employed include:

  • Place: Building on previously developed sites; integrating opportunities for agriculture; contributing toward the creation of walkable, pedestrian-oriented communities.
  • Water: Supplying the project’s water needs with captured precipitation or other natural closed loop water systems; re-cycling used project water; purifying water as needed without the use of chemicals; treating stormwater, grey and black water onsite.
  • Energy: Reducing and optimizing energy usage; relying solely on renewable forms of energy.
  • Health & Happiness: Providing access to fresh air and daylight via operable windows in every regularly occupied space; creating a Healthy Interior Environment Plan; including design elements that nurture the innate connection between humans and nature.
  • Materials: Omitting ‘Red List’ materials which have been determined to be the worst known offending materials responsible for adverse environmental and human health issues; regionally sourcing materials; eliminating or reducing waste during all phases of design and construction.
  • Equity: Enhancing the public realm through features such as street furniture and gardens that are accessible to all members of society; not blocking access to, nor diminishing the quality of, fresh air, sunlight and natural waterways for any member of society or adjacent developments.
  • Beauty: Including design features intended solely for human delight and the celebration of culture, spirit and place; meaningfully integrating public art; providing educational materials about the operation and performance of the building to the public.

To be certified under the Challenge, projects must meet a series of performance requirements over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy. Three levels of certification exist: Living Building Certification, Petal Certification, and Net Zero Energy Building Certification. Projects obtain Living Building Certification by attaining all twenty Imperatives; Petal Certification by satisfying the requirements of three or more Petals, including at least one of the following: Water, Energy or Materials; or Net Zero Energy Building Certification by achieving four specific Imperatives, including net zero energy.

There are currently 40 certified projects spread throughout more than a dozen countries around the world. The St. Louis area is home to the world’s first Living Building, Washington University’s Living Learning Center, as well as a project currently under construction and seeking Living Building Certification, The College School’s Jan Phillips Learning Center. Both projects were designed by local firm Hellmuth+Bicknese. Ralph Bicknese will present on these two and additional Living Buildings in a seminar on “Living Buildings & Communities” on July 27, 2016 from 3-5 pm. Visit www.usgbc-mogateway.org/calendar to learn more and register.

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