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Kendeda: Designing a living building

The Kendeda Building, Georgia Tech, USA

The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design on the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta, Georgia is the most environmentally advanced educational and research facility in the US Southeast. It’s the first building in Georgia, and 28th in the world, to earn the Living Building Challenge certification and is net positive in both energy and water consumption. Its construction phase boasted a zero carbon footprint. 


Much forethought went into designing and building the Kendeda Building so it would be healthy, inclusive and attractive for the faculty and students that use it. It’s shaping the way that we look at living buildings and sustainability. As we look ahead to create built constructions that will positively impact our world long-term, the Kendeda Building serves as an excellent example of a responsible and climate-smart project that can benefit its local environment — and beyond.


The Kendeda Fund and the Living Building Challenge


The origin of the Kendeda Building begins with the Kendeda Fund. It’s a private foundation with the aim of providing communities across the US with opportunities to develop solutions that improve equity, vibrance, resourcefulness and resilience. The fund doesn’t typically give to buildings, but rather to community services.


In this case, Georgia Tech was the recipient of the grant because it’s a technology-based institution that is a global leader in engineering. It was the perfect place to construct a building designed and built with the Living Building Challenge certification in mind.


The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is a sustainable building certification standard that can be applied to any type of built construction. To qualify, a building needs to meet the requirements of the challenge’s seven “petals,” or performance areas:


  • Place: Restores a healthy relationship with nature
  • Water: Creates developments that operate within the water balance of a given place or climate
  • Energy: Relies on current solar income and is net positive in energy use
  • Health and Happiness: Creates environments that optimize physical and psychological health and well-being
  • Materials: Endorses products and materials that are safe for all species over time
  • Equity: Supports a just, inclusive and equitable world
  • Beauty: Celebrates design that uplifts the human spirit


These seven petals are then broken down into 20 imperatives. To qualify for LBC certification, buildings must achieve all 20. This is important as it encourages buildings, suppliers and designers to have a more holistic approach to sustainability. Value management ideas and construction elements are evaluated against the 20 imperatives to see how they positively or negatively impact sustainability goals. 


As mentioned, buildings that meet LBC certification requirements must produce more energy than is consumed, with a 105 percent minimum in terms of energy generation. The Kendeda Building knocks this requirement out of the park — it produces 200 percen more electricity than it consumes.


It’s also an incredible example of how waste was managed, says Shan Arora, Director of the Kendeda Building..” Much of the building’s materials were pulled from landfills and reused. The material sent back to the landfill weighed less than the repurposed materials. In other words, by the time the building was finished, there was actually less waste in local landfills than when construction began – a great example of circularity. 


Designing a living building


Skanska was proud to be selected as the contractor for the Kendeda Building. Jimmy Mitchell, Skanska Senior Director of Business Development, knows just how important decision-making can be when designing a sustainable building with a positive impact on the people who will use it. He says, “At the beginning of the design process, we thoroughly analyzed every design and engineering element, every construction element, to the point where we finally got it right.”


It all goes back to the ‘health and happiness’ petal: the Kendeda Building had to be a place that makes the folks who use it happier and healthier. Shan says, “Ultimately, it’s about our relationship with nature. Are we going to create spaces that are a part of nature, or are we going to continue to make spaces that are apart from nature?” The Kendeda Building is the former. It is a part of its local ecosystem. It’s functioning with nature instead of battling against it.


The Kendeda Building is made with people in mind — that’s what designing a living building is all about. Students who use the building love the connection to the outdoors, the natural elements within the building, the fresh air, the focus on comfort and the natural light. They say that it’s a good place to learn and people from all disciplines go there to read and study.


The building continues to involve the students and faculty now that construction is complete. It has some great exhibits about the seven petals within the LBC certification, as well as art displays that share what the building has done related to equity. It also features exciting and uplifting projects from students around the campus. It goes to show that the petals continue to inspire. 


Looking toward the future


The Kendeda Building is an excellent example of how designers, suppliers and contractors can innovate and work together toward sustainable design and action. Not only did it earn LBC certification – it also serves as an inspiration for other built environments. The building continues to make a positive impact on the planet, the local ecosystem and the people who use it. 


Decisions we make now will go on to affect our society long term. If more buildings are built with the LBC in mind, our towns and cities will begin to give back to our planet instead of taking things away. The knowledge gleaned from the Kendeda Building can serve as a blueprint for other constructions with the same goal: to create places that live with and support nature. 


Rather than fighting against the environment, the Kendeda Building gives back to it. This should be the goal of all built construction as urgent climate actions become more imperative.