The Challenges of Creating a Living Building

At a recent Amazing Space presentation, a guest asked me what was in our contract with our general contractor to ensure that our Living Building Challenge goals are being met, and what the repercussions would be if the challenge wasn’t met.


As the project owner, our priorities are:

  1. Respect and integrate the Living Building Challenge throughout all aspects of the project. Achieve as many imperatives as the design team, construction team, and owner find feasible.
  2. All project team members are focused on quality customer service and high quality interactions.
  3. Nature and respect for the environment is held in the highest regard when making decisions.
  4. Be a true community project, by this community, for this community.IMG_20151208_122322189[1]

The Living Building Challenge provides a comprehensive framework for helping us meet those priorities. Our general contractor, Ryan Companies, and many of the larger subcontractors, were brought on as partners early in the process so they understood and took ownership of the standards set by the LBC. Products were preselected by the design team. We meet weekly, and sometimes daily, to address concerns/issues in a timely manner. There are a number of obvious places that may make it difficult to meet the challenge. A few that we are aware of:

  1. Our specification manual is 2.75” thick and details every single product and material used in the construction process. Given the thousands of materials used, and the need to review every product down to the chemical composition, a “standard” material may have slipped through the cracks (as the project manager, I haven’t read the whole thing yet).
  2. Our budget is limited. As part of this project, we allocated $1.4 million for sustainable and appropriate materials, above and beyond a “standard” construction product. Spending more than that would not be financially prudent, and a key part of organizational sustainability is financial.
  3. The long term performance of the project, from water usage calculations to energy usage calculations, from indoor air quality to annual rainfall, is based on estimated projections. They have been independently looked at, tested, and modeled, but they are just projections for a unique, ultra-sustainable, leading edge building. How the community uses the interactive space and how the weather shifts in the coming years will provide valuable information on how good our models were for the next project.IMG_20151124_103055115[1]

Ultimately, we would like the word “standard” to not have to be used when discussing building materials or stormwater management practices. The sustainable thing to do will have become the standard thing to do.  Building practices and material sources aren’t truly sustainable yet. Regardless of whether we meet all twenty imperatives of the Living Building Challenge, the framework set by the challenge and our early adoption will ensure that the building is as integrated and sustainable as possible, and that it will provide a valuable resource for architects, developers, contractors, and others for years into the future.

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