Designing for a Living Future

South Kent School Center for Innovation
South Kent School Center for Innovation

The dominant green building rating system is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). A leader in sustainability, Centerbrook has designed 13 LEED certified projects, 3 of them earning Platinum Certification, the highest level of recognition. A number of other projects are awaiting certification.

But there is a new emergent green building certification that is raising the bar. Instead of attempting to limit the negative impact of the built environment on human and ecological health, it is a challenge to design for positive impact. The Living Building Challenge™ is not a rating system like LEED, which awards credits towards different levels of certification. If a building is to be certified as “Living”, it must meet a series of mandatory “Imperatives” to be truly sustainable. A Living Building functions as a flower, meeting all of its energy and water needs from the sunlight and rain that falls upon it and the warmth of the ground below, while improving human and ecological health and well-being.

flower

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) was launched in 2006 as an inspiration for the design community to imagine a built environment that works in harmony with nature, with the technology available to us today. The first Living Buildings were certified in 2010. There are only 5 certified projects to date, but these few have paved the way for many more to come. There now are more than 160 registered projects in 10 countries, including Centerbrook’s South Kent School Center for Innovation in Connecticut.

South Kent School Center for Innovation, Solar and Ventilation Strategies
South Kent School Center for Innovation, Solar and Ventilation Strategies

The LBC “Imperatives”, such as Net Zero Energy, Net Zero Water, Healthy Air, and Responsible Industry, are straightforward but rigorous. They are mostly performance-based, not prescriptive. It is up to the design team to find their own way to meet the requirements at their project location, spurring innovation and project-based solutions.

And unlike LEED, LBC certification is not granted based on projected performance: rather, it is dependent on proven performance over the course of a year of occupancy. This ensures that systems have been fully balanced and commissioned, and that users are fully educated in the operation of the building. Other LBC Imperatives address a more comprehensive sense of what makes a building successful, such as Urban Agriculture, Beauty + Spirit, Biophilia, and Democracy + Social Justice. These Imperatives require that the entire project be accessible to the disabled, food be grown onsite, and that the designer specifically acknowledge and design project elements that are solely for human delight or that are rooted in the local regional identity.

The Imperative that many project teams find the most difficult to achieve is the Red List of known toxic and carcinogenic chemicals – such as Formaldehyde and PVC – that must not be present in any of the building materials. The difficulty here is obtaining a comprehensive materials list of building product ingredients from manufacturers. Sometimes manufacturers do not know what is in their products because they use parts and substances manufactured by others, and sometimes they wish to protect proprietary formulations. In response, the International Living Future Institute™ (ILFI), the organization that administers the LBC, has launched a building products transparency label program called Declare™, which serves as an ingredients label for building products. Approximately 30 manufacturers are participating so far.

declare

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC), which administers the LEED rating system, is evolving to continue to push sustainability boundaries as well. LEED Certified buildings are now required to report their energy performance data, and the newer version of the rating system, LEEDv4, incorporates a credit for using materials from manufacturers that disclose their products’ ingredients. The industry is poised to make the idea of Living Buildings more attainable.

Just as LEED has an accreditation program to identify individuals who have an intimate knowledge with the intricacies of its rating system, ILFI has launched its own accreditation for professionals that have a “holistic framing of sustainability and the understanding needed to help lead a transformation toward communities that are socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative.” Centerbrook has 23 LEED accredited professionals, approximately 40 percent of our architectural staff. I am now Centerbrook’s first Living Future Accredited Professional, one of the first 20 accredited by ILFI. In addition, I also am a Living Building Challenge Ambassador, which means that I volunteer to give presentations on behalf of the Institute. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to learn more about the Challenge.

Centerbrook is continuing to push the boundaries of sustainability and move the industry forward. We have recently signed onto the AIA 2030 Commitment, which requires us to apply the principles of sustainability to every project from its inception through completion and beyond. We are also developing a material selection process that will favor manufacturers who have committed to the transparency of their products and processes. This dedication will help us innovate, meet radical energy use targets, save our clients operating costs, and improve air and water quality. The goal is to design healthy spaces that will delight current and future generations.

Flower graphic and Declare Label © 2012 International Living Future Institute. ‘Living Building Challenge™’ and related imagery is a trademark of the International Living Future Institute™ and is used with permission.

Melissa Kops
LEED AP accredited and a Living Future Accredited Professional, Melissa Kops earned her Masters of Architecture Degree from Rhode Island School of Design and is a Senior Architect at Centerbrook.
Melissa Kops

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About Melissa Kops

LEED AP accredited and a Living Future Accredited Professional, Melissa Kops earned her Masters of Architecture Degree from Rhode Island School of Design and is a Senior Architect at Centerbrook.