building a sustainable and resilient community

Living Building Challenge IRL

Posted on | May 23, 2011 | No Comments

Last week was our penultimate topic week in the Sustainable Buildings class, and it was an important one:  we covered the Living Building Challenge, one of the “deepest green” sustainable building standards in the world.  It was even more appropriate a topic when you consider that it was started in our own backyard in conjunction with the Cascadia Green Building Council, and originally conceived by Jason F. McLennan, CEO of Cascadia.  It is now administered by the International Living Future Institute (formerly the International Living Building Institute) and there are currently three buildings in North America that have achieved full “Living status”.

One of the most important things to keep in context within the framework of this class is, how does this standard relate to the other systems, standards, and methodologies we’ve seen?  Observe:

  • ENERGY STAR:  This government-sponsored system is used widely by building professionals and manufacturers.  But, it is somewhat unwieldy with lots of checklists and tools and has been rejected in multiple jurisdictions for being too complicated.
  • State programs and codes: There are too many of these to mention, and they range from prescriptive to performance, regulations to codes.  Standards vary from place to place and can be quite helpful in certain areas – if you know how to take advantage of them.
  • Architecture 2030:  This organization sets ambitious goals but provides very little framework for how to get there.
  • LEED:  This large and dense standard has achieved what we might call “market transformation” due to its position as THE green building benchmark.  But, to achieve certification you must wade through mounds of paperwork and fork out lots of money.
  • Passive House:  This simple and straightforward standard places a premium on high performance, but is perhaps not as comprehensive as some of the other systems.

In contrast, the Living Building Challenge asks the question, “what if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place?”.  With the LBC, the ideal outcome IS the goal, and there are no choices about whether or not you follow the “imperatives”.  If you are trying to reach Living status, you either “go big or go home”.

This brings me to our field trip last week, the last one of the quarter… we are so fortunate in Portland to live in a community that places such value on sustainable living.  We have not just one but THREE Living Buildings in the works in the city of Portland!   The Oregon Sustainability Center, when it is built, will likely be the greenest high-rise ever built and reassert Portland’s status as a global leader in the green design community.  The Key Delta Living Building in North Portland will be a phenomenal resource to its community once it is fully transformed from the gas station it used to be.  But, as great as those buildings will be, they are not built yet.

The Living Building that IS built, or I should say nearly finished, is the commons, a two-family home in SE Portland that is a labor of love for the brothers building it.  Sticking to the integrity of the Living Building Challenge has been a – dare I say – challenge for the owners, but they have come a long way and will have one of the greenest houses in the land when they are done.  We had a good time on this field trip, and even took a class picture!

In front of the commons –
At the back (south) side of the house
Class picture!


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