A Swarm to create buzz for regenerative buildings

Kendeda Building, Living Building, Georgia Tech, Living Building Swarm

I attended an inspiring session Friday at SouthfaceThe topic: How to help companies that will be involved in the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design serve as evangelists for regenerative design and construction on other projects.

You’ll be able to read more about the effort in the coming weeks on this website. But I wanted to prime the pump today, because it’s worth following how the effort plays out.

The concept of a “Swarm” of professionals advocating for deep green approaches (Get it? Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets? The “Swarm”?) grew from a brainstorm by The Kendeda Fund’s Dennis Creech. Creech notes that some 200 companies — from the contractor (Skanska) to painters, plant nurseries and urban gardeners — will be involved in the Kendeda Building and will develop expertise as a result of it. They could benefit both themselves and the cause of regenerative building by telling their stories. So why not help them to tell those stories, and in the process spread the word about regenerative building?

Creech spent Friday afternoon in familiar territory. Until last year, he was Southface’s founding executive director, where he developed a close longterm association with Kendeda. When he joined Kendeda early this year as a fund adviser concentrating on sustainability issues in the Southeast, one of his first challenges was figure out how to leverage work on the Kendeda Building (then simply known as the Living Building at Georgia Tech) to help transform design and construction in the region. Kendeda’s $30 million grant to Georgia Tech covers not only design and construction of the building, but also “leverage activities.” And now Kendeda is complementing that effort by engaging Southface to organize and implement the Swarm.

Friday’s meeting — held the day after the building’s construction launch on the Tech campus— was a kickoff for Swarm planning. Among the participants was Kathleen Smith of the International Living Future Institute, who’d come to Atlanta from Seattle to attend the construction launch. In a brief conversation with me after the launch, Smith made an interesting point: Other Living Building projects have worked with varying success to spread the word about regenerative design and construction. But the Kendeda-Georgia Tech project is unusual for the consciousness and ambition its team has taken to leveraging the project’s impact on an entire region.

In addition to Smith, participants at the Swarm meeting included representatives of Kendeda, Georgia Tech, Lord Aeck Sargent, The Miller Hull Partnership and Skanska. Southface Communications Manager Jaimie Cohen walked us through brainstorms and visioning exercises, replete with slides, white boards and Post-It notes. It was nicely done — one barometer being that the five hours — five hours! — went by quickly.

As with any such planning session, I’m eager to see how Cohen and Southface Commercial Services Director Shane Totten massage the dozens of ideas into a framework that will engage those 200 companies in the effort to transform design and construction. I’ll endeavor to fill you in on the next steps. Our hope is that the Swarm will itself be another story to tell in the drive to transform out built environment for a sustainable future.

PHOTO AT TOP: Georgia Tech’s JulieAnne Williamson goes over the ideas of one breakout group during the Friday’s Swarm planning session. Photo by Ken Edelstein.