Living Building: Georgia Tech plans environmentally advanced facility

A rendering of the Living Building on the Georgia Tech campus.

You may think your house is green and environmentally friendly with LED light bulbs and a low flow toilet, but Georgia Tech is attempting to construct the most environmentally advanced building in the Southeast on its Midtown campus.

The challenge first came from The Kendeda Fund, one of the leading philanthropic investors in civic and environmental programs in the Atlanta area, and the International Living Future Institute. The Living Building Challenge is to construct a building not unlike a tree: a self-sustaining unit that can generate all of its own energy, capture and treat water and operate in harmony with nature.

Given the Southeast’s heat, humidity and variable fresh water supplies, the development of any building aiming for net positive energy and water consumption brings unique challenges. Building a facility that meets Living Building Challenge criteria will provide the opportunity to create a living-learning laboratory for hands-on educational and research opportunities that will be a model for the region and similar environments around the world.

Work has already begun on the Eco-Commons, series of specially designed campus green spaces for stormwater management. The next step is to incorporate the Living Building, which will reside in proximity to Eco-Commons in the northwest campus vicinity to further support the stormwater and landscape master plans.

But that’s not all the multi-tasking building will provide. Composting toilets will be installed based upon their low energy and low water requirement, simplicity to use and maintain, and inexpensive lifecycle cost. Radiant flooring will utilize the building’s thermal mass to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The building will be constructed primarily out of glu-lam, a glue-laminated wood, for a low carbon footprint, regional availability and for a natural aesthetic. Steel and concrete will only be used where needed for structural support.

The Living Building at Georgia Tech has recently reached a major milestone with the approval of the schematic design. Approved by Tech’s Planning and Design Commission in December, the schematic design essentially provides a working blueprint. Teams of architects from The Miller Hull Partnership and Lord Aeck Sargent, engineers, landscape architects, cost estimators, and other professionals have been hard at work analyzing mechanical systems and carefully weighing the tradeoffs to strike the ideal balance between form, function, and cost for this unique building.

“The Living Building is moving into the design development stage where the building and its immediate surroundings really start to take shape based upon the program goals, Living Building Challenge certification requirements, and the project’s budget,” said Howard Wertheimer, assistant vice president for Capital Planning and Space Management. “It has been a collaborative and rather intense analytical process to get to this stage of the project.”

The design calls for the team to prepare construction documents this summer so building can begin in the fall. The real test will come a year after the Living Building is complete, determining whether the building still meets all the program requirements over a full 12-month period of continued operations and full occupancy.

According to Wertheimer, form can co-exist with function. The careful analysis performed leading up to the schematic design of the Living Building at Georgia Tech has shown that you can create a fully functional, high performance building that is still aesthetically pleasing.

For more on the Living Building at Georgia Tech, including updates on the design development, visit

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