What is the Living Building Challenge?

The donation of the Nuthatch Hollow site to Binghamton University added another beautiful, natural environment to the University campus. But more importantly, it added a diverse ecosystem within which to do research and teaching in environmental sciences. The University has a deep commitment to advancing our understanding of how humans can be better stewards of our communities and the environment. During early discussions about how best to utilize this site, the idea of a Living Building Challenge (LBC) certified facility quickly took hold. The LBC embodies many aspects of the mission and aspirations of the University as a whole and provides many opportunities for faculty and student involvement in the design of this new facility. This post provides an overview of the LBC while later posts will dive more deeply into specific imperatives within the LBC.

At its core the Living Building Challenge is the most aspirational building standard in use today. It works to explore what the future of the built environment should look like in a world where humans not only live within the limits of the carrying capacity of our planet, but actually enrich the environment and the communities within which they live. As such, the standard touches on a broad range of sustainability concepts from environmental to economic to social.

The requirements of the LBC are structured around the metaphor of a flower with 20 Imperatives organized within 7 Petals. In order to receive certification, the Imperatives must all be achieved and proven after one year of occupancy.

The following is a quick overview of the Petals:

  • Place: Construct only on previously developed land and avoid sensitive areas; incorporate urban agriculture; offset developed land with permanent habitat offsite; encourage human powered movement.
  • Water: Use only the water that falls on site and process waste water on site, both in sync with the site’s hydrologic cycle.
  • Energy: Create 105% of energy needed on-site through renewable energy; no on-site combustion (no fossil fuels); battery storage to provide resilience.
  • Health and Happiness: Provide operable windows in all occupied spaces; excellent indoor air quality; incorporate biophilia into design.
  • Materials: Avoid products that contain chemicals and materials from an extensive “red list”; quantify, reduce and offset the embodied carbon in the building; use more regional materials; reduce or eliminate waste.
  • Equity: Provide human-scaled spaces accessible to people of all abilities.
  • Beauty: Provide a beautiful building and environment to enhance well-being.

More information on the Living Building Challenge and the International Living Future Institute can be found at https://living-future.org/

Concept Design Presentation

The design team presented three conceptual design ideas to the Binghamton University community on January 24, 2017. A diverse group of students, faculty, administrators and community members were in attendance. Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger began the presentation with an overview of the project’s history and aspirations. The design team then brought everyone up to date with the process so far, including an introduction to the project, overview of the Living Building Challenge, a summary of Biophilia Day, and an analysis of the site and the building program.

The team then presented three schemes, named Connection, Lens, and Reveal. The purpose of the designs was to explore a range of narratives and approaches in order to solicit feedback from the community. Attendees were provided comment cards and through those and the Q&A after the presentation, the design team received extensive feedback. The feedback was generally very positive, and also very specific. The following are a sample of some common themes:

  • Keep most parking closer to the road to allow people to experience the site while walking to the building, as long as accessibility is properly addressed.
  • Explore a more “organic” architecture.
  • A large porch is a great asset to the building.
  • The ‘skin’ of the Lens scheme that mimicks the light filtering through trees could be explored further.
  • Use the building to enhance and maximize views to the site.
  • The incorporation of outdoor research and teaching space adjacent to the building enhances the program.
  • Continue exploring the possibility of building off the existing building foundations.
  • There were concerns about long term maintenance of building and site.
  • Show off the mechanical room in the building
  • A green roof that doubles as a viewing platform is intriguing.

The team will be considering all the comments received as they move into Schematic Design.

Regenerative Development Workshop

Interested project stakeholders were invited to Nuthatch Hollow on October 15th 2016 to participate in an exciting event called “Biophilic Exploration Day”. The day included student led walking tours of Nuthatch Hollow, educational exhibits from the Environmental Studies Department, listening posts to solicit stories, run by the Sustainable Communities Graduate Program, and a day long Regenerative Development Workshop facilitated by members of the design team.

The Regenerative Development Workshop provided the 30+ participants an opportunity to explore and experience Nuthatch Hollow in a deeper way. Individual and group activities explored the meaning of biophilia and a history of Nuthatch Hollow. People were sent out to explore the grounds and recognize patterns they saw and felt, thinking about important flow relationships and ultimately identifying the essence of Nuthatch Hollow. Small groups looked at guiding principles of sustainability and how they could impact the project. Those same groups crafted their long term vision of Nuthatch Hollow. The day concluded with each workshop participant giving their impressions of the day and their “aha moments.”

The day produced three key initiatives, a purpose statement and a description of the essence of Nuthatch Hollow that the design team will use as they begin their work.

Purpose Statement:

To…design and build a living building

In a way…that embodies, emulates and enhances the essence of the place

So that…through experimentation and hands on research, education is transformed, a bridge is built between the University and the community, and we demonstrate how humans can be positive contributors to natural systems.

Nuthatch Hollow: Designing a Living Building

This blog will chronicle the design of the Living Building at Nuthatch Hollow and provide a forum for feedback on the project. Nuthatch Hollow is an environmental learning and research site near the Binghamton University campus. The Living Building Challenge is one of the most aspirational and rigorous building standards in the world today with only 11 buildings so far achieving full certification. Join us as we embark on this journey.

An Introduction the Living Building at Nuthatch Hollow
The purpose of this project is to design and construct a Living Building Challenge Certified environmental classroom and research facility on the grounds of Nuthatch Hollow. The facility, about 2,000 to 2,500 square feet in size, will act as a hub for environmental classes and research within the broader Nuthatch preserve. At a symbolic level, the building will act as a physical manifestation of Binghamton University’s core values and mission, especially as they relate to preparing students to live effectively in a time of change and helping them actively create a more sustainable, resilient world.

The primary function of the facility will be for teaching and research for the Environmental Studies Program. In addition to this the facility will be available for other gatherings and may be used during the summer months for community based educational programs.

The following are some of the larger goals of the project:

  • A primary purpose of the Nuthatch property and facility is to provide a place where the Environmental Studies Department can experiment within the natural environment. The building should support this research and educational function.
  • The facility can be a hub for collaboration between multiple disciplines within the University.
  • The building will achieve Living Building Certification. At this time only 11 buildings in the world have achieved full certification.
  • The design process is intended to be highly interactive and engage the broader University community including faculty, staff and students. As such, the design and construction process is as important to the success of this effort as the finished building itself.
  • It is anticipated that the building will incorporate smart energy technology, in collaboration with the Smart Energy TAE and that the Smart Energy TAE will have an ongoing role in developing and monitoring those technologies.
  • The process and the building itself shall be as replicable as possible, whether it be overall building concepts and construction methodologies or individual systems and components. This is particularly important in the context of a public institution for higher learning.
  • Due to the size and nature of the facility, it is anticipated that there will be some building systems and construction methodologies of a residential scale that will help serve as a model for the broader community.