Design Inspiration

Caroline Pidcock provides an overview of this design challenge; an inspiring opportunity to create buildings that function elegantly and efficiently, now and as the future unfolds.

What is the Living Building Challenge?

The chance to be a part of something big …

The future can be great – we just need tools to help guide our creativity and make it happen. How would you feel if you and your family could be part of a bigger, inspiring movement that aims to create a “socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative” future for us all to live in?

The Living Building Challenge (LBC)?

The Zero Energy House (ZEH) is a home designed to achieve net zero energy over the course of the year through energy efficient features and solar energy systems. Photo: © Christoph Hossley

The Zero Energy House (ZEH) is a home designed to achieve net zero energy over the course of the year through energy efficient features and solar energy systems. Photo: © Christoph Hossley

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) challenges “all of humanity to reconcile the built environment with the natural environment, into a civilisation that creates greater biodiversity, resilience and opportunities for life with each adaptation and development”.

To achieve this, the challenge asks you to imagine “a building designed and constructed to function as elegantly and efficiently as a flower: a building informed by its bioregion’s characteristics, that generates all of its own energy with renewable resources, captures and treats all of its water, and that operates efficiently and for maximum beauty.”

Wow. A building that’s not “less bad” – but truly good and beautiful. And inspiring. As Michelangelo said, “The great danger is not that we aim too high and miss it, but that we aim too low and hit it.”

What does this mean for your own home?

At the very least it provides a framework for thinking through the whole project to ensure you are covering all the issues that are important for a house you would like to live in as the future unfolds. Building on The 17 Things™ of Liveability, it helps extend the boundaries and ambition of what can be achieved.

Living landscape 1A Note about Biophilic Design: this works on the basis that human health and well-being has a biologically based need to affiliate with nature. To help achieve a design that takes our health and wellbeing seriously, we should start our design process with a workshop that explores how biophilic design can positively influence the whole process. This is to help ensure the principles are understood by the whole team right from the beginning and can be allowed to truly influence the outcome of the design process.

The LBC framework offers up some key challenges, which I share with you below.

Protection of the surrounding environment: Projects may only be built on previously developed sites that are not impacting on sensitive ecological habitats. This is because the LBC notes that the human race has taken more than its fair share of habitat around the world already, and we need to leave what is left for other species and food production. In addition, the project needs to ensure the place is improved through the project’s implementation.

McGilvra Place Park is a 242-square-meter park on the edge of Seattle’s Central District. Once a forgotten traffic median on a major city arterial, the project is now an activated and enlivened pocket park.

McGilvra Place Park is a 242-square-meter park on the edge of Seattle’s Central District. Once a forgotten traffic median on a major city arterial, the project is now an activated and enlivened pocket park.

Food production: Every place needs to integrate appropriate opportunities to grow food for its occupants to help reduce the pressure on habitat around the world for food production. By thinking creatively about roof and wall as well as ground gardens, it seems the possibilities are great.

Designed for people not cars: Each project needs to contribute to the creation of cities that are designed around people and at a human scale with an aim to create places that reduce the need for the use of cars. For homes (that have hopefully been selected for their proximity to places we visit regularly), we need to work out how we can reduce the impact of our transportation through car share, bicycle use and public transport.

Waterwise: We need to work out how to capture and naturally treat at least as much water as we need to use over a year, while having a positive impact on the water ecosystem in which the project is placed. This will allow us to to be water independent. When coupled with good storage systems and design, we can create systems that be shining beacons as they continue to work after a catastrophic climate event, such as a cyclone or bushfire.

zHome is a ten unit townhouse project in Washington designed to achieve zero net energy, as well as a number of other environmental benchmarks.

zHome is a ten unit townhouse project in Washington designed to achieve zero net energy, as well as a number of other environmental benchmarks.

Energy efficient: As with water, we need to work out how to be energy independent. This means we should identify how much renewable energy can be harvested on site, and shape the size and design of the building around this so that we produce more energy than we need over the year. Battery storage will allow the building to be the beacon noted above after a catastrophic climate event.

Healthy internal environment: A healthy environment is fundamental to any good building. Creating environments that optimise physical and psychological health and wellbeing starts with having openable windows in every room that provide access to fresh air and daylight. Sounds simple – and it should be!

Non-toxic materials: Healthy building materials should not use any toxic materials or chemicals. While this sounds completely obvious, it is astounding how many standard building materials contain toxic substances, and how few manufacturers either know or are willing to let on to what their products contain. The Declare label has been developed to assist us in understanding the true background to and make up of materials.

Reduced carbon footprint: We need to account for the embodied carbon footprint of each project. When we do this correctly, we start to consider how to better value this important aspect of our buildings and see how we can usefully retain more of the existing building stock.

Hawai'i Prep - designed for place

The Hawai’i Preparatory Academy’s Energy Lab has been fully certified under the Living Building.

Community awareness: A Living Building Challenge building must incorporate “place-based solutions and contribute to the expansion of a regional economy rooted in sustainable practices, products and services”. If you think about it, a good building should assist and strengthen the community it is in and reflect the skills and materials that are locally available. It can then be more grounded in its place.

Minimal construction waste: As any home builder/renovator knows, there is an immense amount of waste that happens during construction. We must work out how to reduce or eliminate the production of waste during design, construction, operation and end of life so that we stop thoughtlessly creating landfill.

SBRC West view

The University of Wollongong’s Sustainable Building Research Centre (SBARC) was the first building in Australia to be registered for full certification under the Living Building Challenge

Equality and inclusiveness: Buildings of the future must “foster a true, inclusive sense of community that is just and equitable regardless of an individual’s background, age, class, race, gender or sexual orientation. A society that embraces all sectors of humanity and allows the dignity of equal access and fair treatment is a civilisation in the best position to make decisions that protect and restore the natural environment that sustains all of us.” Here are a couple of interesting and challenging ideas about what this might involve:

  • Living Building Challenge projects contribute to charities so they can also enjoy renewable infrastructure such as photovoltaics or windmills
  • Businesses involved in Living Building Challenge buildings should demonstrate they have fair and equitable – or JUST – business practices.

Beauty: Importantly, Living Building Challenge projects should be beautiful! This will do the most to encourage people to love and care for them – giving them greatest chance for long low impact lives. They and their creators should also sing loudly and widely about what they have achieved so others will be inspired to stand on their shoulders and go further.

While this might sound challenging and hard (which it is), the Living Building Challenge aims to set out the sort of future we need to create for a truly living future. While achieving full petal certification is ideal, partial certification is also possible. Where certification is not possible, the Living Building Challenge framework will provide lots of ideas for making your home better than it is already.

For more information, see Living Futures.

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Caroline Pidcock

Caroline Pidcock

Caroline Pidcock, the curator of our Liveability ‘be inspired by design’ is founding Principal of the design firm PIDCOCK – Architecture + Sustainability which is focused on desirable, sustainable architecture. The practice aims to excel in ecologically sustainable design, documentation and advice and to demonstrate how such a focus can deliver potent influences in design and can produce delightful experiences. PIDCOCK is particularly interested in renovations, where it is possible to identify the best of what is existing and help to recognise, adapt and develop this to be part of a strong and relevant future.

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