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Green & Living buildings: How should students prepare?

If you’re working with architecture and landscape architecture students, are you introducing them to Living Buildings and the Living Building Challenge?

This post lays the groundwork for you to get them talking and thinking about Living Buildings: given the history of the green buiding movement, what have we learned about moving forward constructively? Living Buildings are the cutting edge now, but where do we go after living buildings? City wide approaches? What about the retrofitting problem?

Stay tuned to the end of the post to find a bonus question about a central component to Living Buildings that often isn’t talked about.

Living Building Certification

The Bertschi School Science Wing, Seattle

Despite its name, the challenge is actually a performance system like LEED, the US Green Building Council’s rating system for energy and environmental performce in buildings. Here’s an article from Curbed that talks about both systems. Students will have to juggle both legacy rating systems like LEED but also handle current and emerging certifications like Living Building.

Living Buildings goes further than the top LEED rating requirements, calling for the building to generate all its own energy through renewable sources, capture and treat all its own water and incorporate only sustainable (in the widest sense of the term) materials.

The International Living Future Institute that oversees the Living Building Challenge is based in Seattle). No coincidence, perhaps, that two Seattle-area buildings are involved with Living Building certification:

1. Bertschi School Living Building Science Wing
achieved Living Building Status–the world’s 4th fully-certified Living Building and the first on the West Coast
architecture: KMD Architects Restorative Design Collective
construction: Skanska
news article in Digital Construction

2. The Bullitt Center

The Bullitt Center courtesy Miller Hull Partnership
building opened on Earth Day 2013, but must operate one year with full occupancy to acheive Living Building status
architecture: Miller Hull Partnership
construction: Schuchart
article in the New York Times

Living Building Tech

So far attention on the Living Building Challenge has been strongest in the US, but recently BIQ House in Hamburg Germany opened as the world’s first algae-powered buliding (news article: inhabitat). Designed by Arup (in conjunction with Splitterwerk Architects and SSC Strategic Science Consultants) to use bioreactors, the buiding launched as part of the International Building Exhibition in Hamburg.

BIQ House, Hamburg, BIQ House opens, International Building Exhibition, self-sufficient living buildings, Arup, SSC Strategic Science Consultant, Splitterwerk Architects, jet-powered maintenance robots, high-rise farms, photovoltaic paint, the future of green building, bio-reactor facade, biomass, solar thermal heat, algae power, algae as shade, algae as insulator
Hamburg’s BIC House powered by algae

What technologies will be next in green buildings? Arup’s report, “It’s Alive!” documents other ideas about the future of living buildings. Construction Manager has a few ideas in the article “Innovation Special: Creating the ‘living’ building.” Alongside algae powered bioreacotors, the article cites solar panels built into building materials, surface materials as air filters, and new materials to replace plastic as its source material of oil and gas become scarce. Think transparent concrete…

These new materials and new buildings offer a lot of inspiration, but still leave us with a huge stock of existing inefficient and often poorly constructed buildings.

Bonus question: the social side of living buildings

What is the social side of Living Buildings and where is the designer’s role in that? Do living buildings fit into the “social design” terminology discussed in the last post?

Let me know how in the comments how your students are preparing for Living Buildings and beyond.


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