The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design is complete with plans to welcome students in January 2020. Once certified under the Living Building Challenge, which requires adherence to some of the most stringent building performance standards in the world, The Kendeda Building will be considered the most environmentally advanced education and research center ever constructed in the Southeast.
But the real goal is to actually not be the only Living Building Challenge project in the Southeast for long. Rather, one of the project’s primary objectives is to share lessons learned with those who own, design, and construct buildings so that they too can carry these principles forward and encourage others to take the challenge in their communities.
As Georgia Tech takes over the keys to The Kendeda Building, it provides an opportunity for
stakeholders to reflect on the project and share their perspective so that others can learn from
their experience and apply this knowledge to future projects.
Video: The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design opens on Georgia Tech's campus.
From the Designers
The Miller Hull Partnership
The most important lesson is that even in the challenging climate of the southeastern United States, these types of Living Buildings are possible. They can and should be built everywhere. We should have all been doing this (designing and building Living Buildings) sooner in our lifetimes.
Lord Aeck Sargent
Every project partner worked extremely hard to create a truly integrated team, but there is always room for improvement on future projects. In order to achieve Living Building certification, defining project goals early in the process and communicating those goals to the entire project team is crucial. The project goals are at the center of both designing and constructing the building and should be revisited at every stage of the project by the entire team — including the subcontractors. In the end, this means establishing consistent and open communication and coordination between all team members.
The Miller Hull Partnership
Don’t underestimate the importance of preconstruction meetings and mockups. “Business as usual” will not get us to success on high-performance projects. If we are using unfamiliar products or systems, it is critical that subs and everyone involved understand these elements and how one scope of work fits in with other trades and the overall project.
Lord Aeck Sargent
I would suggest paying more attention to embodied energy. We hit the big items like structure, which represents 75% of embodied carbon in most buildings, but it would have been great to focus on the biggest pieces of the remaining 25%. For example, while we used the most effective insulation that was free of red list chemicals, it still represents a major contributor to the embodied energy in the building.
Workers prepare wooden building components for The Kendeda Building.
From the Builder
On the next Living Building Challenge project like The Kendeda Building, I would encourage the team to be more focused with all the options considered early in the process. Since this is the first project of this nature in the Southeast, our entire team spent a great deal of effort and time analyzing the multiple options because we wanted to get things right for a hot and humid climate. For example, with the mechanical system, we considered four different systems, each with unique attributes. We considered technologies that were off the shelf, in use somewhere else, and academic in nature. Ultimately, we took two systems through a detailed design and cost exercise to select the right system. I am not saying we wouldn’t want to do this type of analysis on the next project but, moving forward, we have the experience and tools to be much more focused and, hopefully, more efficient on the next Living Building Challenge project in the region.
I would advocate for more time and flexibility during the pre-construction phase of the project to allow for a more complete design and more accurate budgeting. Without a full building design, seemingly small changes can have huge and unintended impacts. And when traditional value engineering methods are applied to a fully integrated building like The Kendeda Building, people need to understand that status quo, cost-saving measures don’t always work. For example, we saved money up front by changing the elevator manufacturer late in the design process. However, this change created space planning issues because the new elevator had different control requirements. As a result, we had to build a new room that was not originally planned, and the inspector required us to get a variance. These changes ended up costing more than the initial savings and nearly delayed the project’s opening. These types of “cost-saving measures” also don’t allow the design team to solidify a final direction and focus on detailing, leaving too many decisions to be made after construction has started.
Exterior of the completed Kendeda Building.
From the Owner
Anyone pursuing a Living Building Challenge certified project should take the time to tap into the experience of other building owners who have gone through the process. The insight from those teams, including the operations and maintenance staff, is invaluable and can help you with the learning curve. I’d also suggest active engagement with those who will be running the building – again, operations and maintenance staff – at the start of design process to leverage their insight and help them better understand the basis for the design. Their commitment is critical to achieving certification.
The potable water system for The Kendeda Building is unique and the process of getting to permit approval is complex since this is first of its kind in the region. As an owner, it is important to work closely and early on in the process with the internal and external groups that can provide insight on safety regulations, required equipment, and testing procedures.
Where applicable, building projects on campus should have a parallel pilot project track to which students, faculty, staff and researchers can contribute via ideation and entrepreneurial thinking. This approach with The Kendeda Building has helped us learn more and make more connections than we ever thought possible.
From the Funder
Most of the Living Building projects that preceded ours were driven by singular visionaries who were thoroughly dedicated to success. The leadership of our project, by contrast, was far more diffuse. Lacking a lone champion, we forged a process that involved:
- Hiring a “donor’s rep” with the background to understand design, construction, engineering, budgeting, and more
- Devising dual tracks and teams, with one dedicated to delivering the building, and the other focused on expanding its impact
- Developing a direct communication vehicle, to encompass all aspects of the project
- Engaging regular executive review meetings at the highest levels of Georgia Tech and Kendeda
There were bumps along the way, to be sure. And while we can’t say the finished product represents one individual’s dream building, we can all take pride in a collective effort.
One of Kendeda’s goals for the project was, in part, to help change the conversation about design and construction in our region and beyond. Motivated by a belief that helping the construction professionals tell their personal stories of meeting the criteria of a Living Building would create ripples far and wide, we launched The Swarm, an outreach effort to authentically share lessons learned by the many contractors who had a hand in the effort. While we saw some success, we also learned through experience that there are challenges to building a cohesive, communicative “community of practice” among dozens of partners. We need to recognize that changing an industry is difficult, but each day it becomes more apparent that doing so is essential.
Kendeda realized early on that our investment in this project would include many “teachable moments.” The uniqueness of what we were doing held lessons for other funders about how capital investments might be used to raise the bar of environmental responsibility. There were insights for the design-build community around what’s achievable (or not) in a hot, humid climate like the Southeast. And there were lessons learned about how to best communicate the successes — and challenges — that come with an ambitious, multiyear construction project. We created our blog, the Living Building Chronicle, to document the ups and downs of this multiyear journey, so that those following in our footsteps might have a reference manual or roadmap. Finding an authentic voice that was true to Kendeda’s transparency goals and respectful of the project partners’ communication priorities was not always easy and required some compromise. At the end of the day, our readers benefited from it.