Kendeda Building earns Living Building Challenge certification

It’s official: The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design is one of 28 buildings to achieve full certification under the world’s most rigorous green building standard.

The Georgia Institute of Technology, which is the Kendeda Building’s owner, announced today that the building has met all the requirements of the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge. 

It becomes the second fully certified Living Building in the Southeast to meet the LBC standard and one of the largest globally.

The 37,000-square-foot building was designed to demonstrate that commercial and institutional buildings can operate in a regenerative fashion in the hot and humid climate of the Southeast. As it turned out, the building easily exceeded many of the LBC’s stringent criteria.

Most notably, during the 12 months in which its operations were evaluated for certification, the building’s rooftop solar array produced more than twice the energy it used. While that performance was aided by the fact that the building was shuttered but still generating electricity during the early part of the pandemic, the array also was producing far more energy than it used when it was fully operational in the months before the pandemic hit.

Nearly as impressive was the building’s final price tag. Georgia Tech tallied up the cost of $544 per gross square foot. That’s not inexpensive. But turned out to be only 13 percent higher than the engineering school’s benchmark for a comparable, conventional building. In addition, the building enjoys reduced operating costs by providing its own energy and potable water.

“If there was any doubt, we have shown that net positive energy and net positive water are both within reach in Atlanta and across the Southeast,” Joshua Gassman of Lord Aeck Sargent, one of the project’s lead architects, said in a press release from the Georgia Tech and the Kendeda Fund.

The Kendeda Building is the brainchild of Kendeda Fund founder Diana Blank, who was determined after a tour of the Bullitt Center — an early LBC-certified building in Seattle — to demonstrate that a similarly green building could be designed and built in the Southeast. In constructing an LBC building at scale, her aim was to establish a bridgehead for regenerative architecture and construction in a region that has lagged environmentally.

“I wasn’t sure at the beginning of the project whether we would be able to succeed because we are in a hot, humid climate here,” Blank said in a video conversation with Georgia Tech President Angel Cabrera posted this morning by Georgia Tech.

 

The Fund set aside $30 million for the building’s design and construction, five years of operating costs, and efforts to leverage the project to promote regenerative design and construction in the Southeast. In 2015, Blank together with her team of advisers the Fund selected Georgia Tech as recipient of the grant, with the understanding that the school would take the lead in developing the building. Among the school’s advantages were its track record on sustainable design and construction, a wide variety of respected academic programs related to the built environment, and its ability to attract elite engineering students.

“We partnered with Georgia Tech … because the institution is full of world-class problem solvers,” Blank said in a statement released this morning. “Students passing through the Kendeda Building today will be the engineers, architects, scientists, product designers, urban planners, and policy makers of tomorrow.”

(The Kendeda Fund also established the Living Building Chronicle to independently follow the building’s progress and to report on the progress of regenerative design and construction in the Southeast. The Kendeda Fund also has been a leading supporter of ILFI for more than a decade.)

Among the project’s first innovations was an “ideas competition” which was designed by then-Georgia Tech Institute Architect Howard Wertheimer. Unlike a conventional design contest, the ideas competition allowed the winning team to consider concepts that had been proposed by the other teams. It also backed up the design process until after the competition to allow the kind of integrated project team that is a core tenet of sustainable design.

The winning team also consciously adopted a pairing approach fashioned to encourage a transfer of regenerative design know-how from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast. As architects, Atlanta-based Lord Aeck Sargent partnered with Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership. The mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers were Newcomb & Boyd, along with PAE Engineers of Portland, Oregon.

Both Miller Hull and PAE had extensive experience on Living Buildings, including the Bullitt Center. Skanska USA, which eventually was chosen as general contractor, also had significant experience with Living Building projects, and personnel from the construction giant’s Seattle office advised those in the Atlanta office as the project moved along.

Designers, contractors and suppliers testified repeatedly during the course of the project that they saw their companies’ involvement as an opportunity to get in on the leading edge of a market that they expect to explode as regenerative buildings edge toward the mainstream.

Both design and construction presented challenges, however. Buffeted by rising material and labor costs, the team was forced in the fall of 2017 to find $1.5 million in cuts and to shrink the conditioned space from 42,000 square feet to 37,000 square feet. Architects made up for the lost indoor space by designing an outdoor rooftop classroom as part of some 10,000 square feet in programmable outdoor space. 

Georgia Tech Senior Project Manager John J. DuConge, who oversaw construction, also noted that the institute had to keep the project on course despite multiple leadership changes. Among those who happened to leave their positions before the building was completed were President G.P. “Bud” Peterson, Executive Vice President for Administration and Finance Steve Swant, and Wertheimer, who had helped to reshape the campus in a sustainable direction during his 20 years of as leader of the school’s facility planning.

The building also endured construction delays, most often related to materials that were difficult to source via conventional supply lines.. A case in point: The South’s dearth of Forest Stewardship Council-certified dimensional lumber forced Skanska to acquire glue-laminated timbers from a mill in New York state.

Despite those complications, the building was open in August 2019, about four months after its initial ambitious completion date. It also came in at budget.

One of the Living Building Challenge’s main goals is to encourage the development and availability of highly sustainable products and materials. The Kendeda project led to several steps in that direction, including a decision by Kawneer to replace a part in one of its curtain wall systems with one that meets the LBC’s stringent ban on toxic materials.

The extent to which the building can help to transform design and construction in the Southeast remains to be seen. Cabrera, the current Georgia Tech president, insists that at his institution, progress on sustainable design — including the value it places on equity and inclusion — will be a priority.

“By challenging Georgia Tech to try to do better, to try to stretch our design thinking, to bring in all the elements of — not just of environmental sustainability — but of beauty, of well-being, of inclusion, it has helped us all rethink what a campus is,” Cabrera said in his video conversation with Blank. “his is not just to build the next building. It’s to be an example of sustainability.”

Kendeda Fund Sustainability Adviser Dennis Creech noted that the coronavirus hit just as the recently opened building was drawing attention for its transformative features. Still, he pointed out, more than 5,000 visitors had toured the building before the campus was closed down on account of the pandemic. With a return to normalcy on the horizon, Creech has been fielding more calls from private and public decision makers with interest in similar projects.

“At the end of the day, we proved this could be done in the Southeast, and frankly the performance has been a lot better than I thought it would be,” Creech said. “Every day, the Kendeda Building serves as living proof that we can make buildings better on a campus that’s chock full of students who will be influencers in fields like architecture and energy and construction and materials in the future.”

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