Living Building Challenge is a program of the International Living Future Institute.
Living Building Challenge is a philosophy, advocacy tool, and certification program that addresses development at all scales. The underlying principle of the Living Building Challenge is that all development projects should use nature as the ultimate measurement stick for performance – the Challenge uses the metaphor of the flower to illustrate this principle. Like a flower, all elements of the built environment are rooted in place. Yet, a flower has place-based solutions to meet all of its energy, water and resource needs and to maintain balance with its surroundings. So, imagine a building, site or infrastructure project that is informed by its ecoregion ’s characteristics, and that generates all of its own energy with renewable resources, captures and treats all of its water, and operates efficiently and for maximum beauty; and a neighborhood that has scaled these solutions appropriate to its size and function.
Living Building Challenge is an attempt to codify this figurative concept into a performance standard. But there are other, greater, potential outcomes from the program than the projects themselves. Living Building Challenge aims to provide the rich narrative needed to fuel accelerated change, using both technical elements and philosophical considerations. All aspects of the program are guided by identifying an ideal, and positioning that ideal as the indicator of success. In this way, decisions are steered by restorative principles instead of code-minimum solutions. These also serve as ever-present reminders of the objectives we are working to achieve. We anticipate that Living Building Challenge will generate truly transformative approaches to design and construction that will serve as models. The market will adapt to better ecological solutions as more and more projects are completed.
There are a total of twenty Imperatives in the Living Building Challenge and they are organized into seven categories, or “Petals”. For a project to be certified as “Living”, all Imperatives assigned to a Typology must be met. The Institute also offers partial program certification – ‘Petal Recognition’ – to projects that satisfy the requirements in three categories of the Living Building Challenge, when at least one is Water, Energy or Materials. Some Typologies have fewer than twenty Imperatives because the requirements are either not appropriate or applicable to all development options within that category. However, project teams are encouraged to still consider these as additional influencing factors that may be incorporated to their specific project. Throughout the Standard, there are noted exceptions for various requirements to acknowledge current market realities and the limits of our collective knowledge. In time and as we make progress, these will be removed. I ’ll note some of the exceptions during my presentation today; they are also footnoted in the Standard document. Another point of difference in the Living Building Challenge is that certification is based on actual performance instead of modeled outcomes. Projects must be fully operational for at least twelve consecutive months prior to certification. For example, documentation requirements include utility bills – not energy models.
There are four Typologies, and teams must identify the one that aligns with the project to determine which Imperatives apply: Renovation is for any project that does not form the substantial portion of a complete building reconstruction. Sample projects include single-floor tenant improvements, residential kitchen remodels or historic rehabilitations of a portion of a building. Landscape or Infrastructure is for any project that does not include a physical structure as part of its primary program, although open-air ‘park-like’ structures, restrooms, amphitheatres and the like do fall into this category. Projects may be as diverse as roads, bridges, plazas, sports facilities or trails. Building is for any project that encompasses the construction of a roofed and walled structure created for permanent use – either new or existing. Neighborhood is for any project that contains multiple buildings in a continuous campus, neighborhood, district or village. Sample projects include university, college or corporate campuses; business or industrial districts; or small villages and towns.
To encourage proper development in specific settings, the Living Building Challenge draws on the work of DPZ*, who created the New Urbanism Transect model for rural to urban categorization. The Transect is a powerful basis for Planning, and demonstrates that different types of standards befit different development realities. The “Living” Transect, which applies to several Imperatives throughout the Living Building Challenge, is an adaptation of the original Transect concept; Transect zones T3 and T4 have been reclassified to increase density. The Challenge encourages the transition of suburban zones either to grow into new urban areas with greater density, or be dismantled and repurposed as new rural zones for food production, habitat and ecosystem services. (* DPZ stands for Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company) [FOR YOUR INFORMATION] L1 is comprised of land that is set aside as a nature preserve or is defined as sensitive ecological habitat. Only in limited circumstances related to the preservation or interpretation of the landscape may this land be developed. L2 is comprised of land with a primary function for agriculture and development that relates specifically to the production of food. L3 is comprised of relatively low-density mixed-use development found in rural villages and towns, and may also include college or university campuses. L4 is comprised of light- to medium-density mixed-use development found in larger villages, small towns or at the edge of larger cities. L5 is comprised of a medium- to high-density mixed-use development found in small to mid-sized cities or in the first ‘ring’ of a larger city. L6 is comprised of high-to very high-density mixed use development found in large cities and metropolises.
The Living Building Challenge acknowledges that the ideal scale for solutions is not always within a project ’s property boundary. Depending on the technology, the optimal scale can vary when considering environmental impact, first cost and operating costs. To address these realities The concept of Scale Jumping allows multiple projects to operate in a cooperative state – sharing green infrastructure as appropriate and allowing for Living Building, Site or Community status to be achieved as elegantly and efficiently as possible.
Here you can see an overview of the entire program showing the Petals, the Imperatives and the Typologies to which they apply, and where Scale Jumping can be implemented. Renovation projects have 13 Imperatives, Landscape + Infrastructure projects have 16 Imperatives, and Building and Neighborhood projects have 20 Imperatives. This chart is also printed on page 13 of the standard, which can be downloaded from the program website.
Living Building Challenge Collaboratives are community-based groups of enthusiasts who meet regularly to learn, converse and take on local actions. Collaboratives create the local conditions that support development of Living Buildings, Landscapes and Neighborhoods. Around the world, these groups are contributing valuable, placed-based knowledge to the global vision of the Ambassador Network. (If there is a collaborative in your community*): We’re always looking for additional leaders to help facilitate Collaborative events. If you’re interested in attending the next Collaborative event, post a note on the Collaborative’s Facebook page. (If there is NOT a Collaborative in your community*): Visit the Living Building Challenge website ( livingbuildingchallenge.org/facilitate) if you’d like to start a Collaborative here. NOTE: To find out if you have a Collaborative in your community, visit the Ambassador Network map via the livingbuildingchallenge.org/action and see if there’s a red tag marking a Collaborative in your city.
This map documents the locations of current registered projects. At this time, there are six certified projects, three of which have achieved ‘living’ status. More than ten projects are currently in their operational phase. There are more than 90 other projects currently in some phase of design, construction or operation. More projects are not yet certified because not enough time has transpired: The program was announced in November 2006. Even in the best of design and construction circumstances, this is a tight window to complete any project, let alone one that meets all of the requirements of the Living Building Challenge. In addition, we require at least 12 months of occupancy and operation prior to certification to ensure that a project is functioning as anticipated.
Thank you for your interest in the Living Building Challenge. For more information and to subscribe to the online Community, please visit the website at living-building-challenge-dot-org. You can also follow Living Building Challenge on facebook (facebook.com/livingbuildingchallenge) and twitter (@livingbuilding)