What is a Living Building? A Living Building is rooted in place yet harvests all it needs, including energy and water. It is adapted to its climate and to its site. It operates pollution-free. It is comprised of integrated systems. And, it is beautiful.
In this episode of the Green Architects’ Lounge, Phil and Chris discuss the Living Building Challenge (LBC), a certification program that aims to transform the marketplace, with all its joys and challenges. Collaborating for the first time, their firms are working on a LBC project, The Ecology School in Saco, Maine. On the show, Phil and Chris discuss in detail the 7 petals (and 20 imperatives) put forth by the LBC and chat about how this process has fundamentally changed the way they practice as architects.
The Notorious F.L.I.P.
1.5 oz. of dark rum
0.5 oz. of Amaro Nonino (or Cynar, Bully Boy, or another Amaro that is easier to find)
1.0 oz. Byrrh (or Cardamaro, another fortified wine)
1 whole fresh egg
0.5 oz. of maple syrup (or 0.75 oz. of simple syrup)
Pinch of nutmeg for garnish
Directions: Shake with ice, strain, pour into fizz glass, and garnish with nutmeg.
[Thanks to Michael Rubel, the Violet Hour, Chicago, Illinois.]
Here is an outline of the Living Building Challenge program, which is organized with a flower metaphor. The seven petals are:
- Health and Happiness
Each petal has a number of imperatives:
- Limits to growth
- Urban agriculture
- Habitat exchange
- Human-powered living
- Net positive water
- Net positive energy (105% provable over a year)
Health and Happiness:
- Civilized environment
- Healthy environment
- Biophilic environment
- Red list
- Embodied carbon footprint
- Responsible industry – Declare label
- Living economy sourcing
- Net positive waste
- Human scale and humane places
- Universal access to nature and place
- Equitable investment
- Just organizations
- Beauty and spirit
- Inspiration and education
Does it cost more to do a Living Building? Hell, yes.
- Learning curve and unknowns
Never miss an episode and take the podcast with you! Subscribe to the Green Architects’ Lounge on iTunes or from wherever you download your podcasts. The show’s Theme Music is Zelda’s Theme by Perez Prado.
Chris: Hey everybody! Welcome to the Green Architects’ Lounge podcast. I’m your host, Chris Briley.
Phil: And I’m your host, Phil Kaplan. Hey, Chris!
Chris: Hey, Phil! How ya doing?
Phil: Another one of these!
Chris: I love it!
Phil: We’re on a roll.
Chris: We’re on a roll. We’re sticking to our “one a month” goal here of podcasts.
Phil: I’m so proud of us.
Chris: I’m proud of us, too. How are you feeling? Are you feeling good?
Phil: Today I’m feeling good!
Chris: Alright, great.
Phil: Yeah, last week… not so much. How are you doing today?
Chris: Ah… I woke up with a little headache, but I feel great now!
Phil: Well, we’re going through the slog season of Maine, right?
Chris: Yeah. It’s this winter. I’m sick of it, Phil.
Phil: Yeah… just like mush. We got six or seven inches last night.
Phil: You put on the big boots, and you just churn through the slush.
Chris: What am I going to do to make myself feel better?
Phil: I’ve got an idea!
Phil: How about a Notorious F.L.I.P.?
Chris: A Notorious F.L.I.P.? Is this the cocktail of the episode?
Phil: It is.
Chris: Cheers, Buddy!
Alright. Before we do the cocktail, we should say: Hey, you’re tuning in to Green Architects’ Lounge podcast where we are going to be talking about the Living Building Challenge.
Phil: The Living Building Challenge. That’s right.
Chris: So, we’ll get back to that right after this “F.L.I.P.”
[The guys jaw about this episode’s cocktail.]
Chris: So, Living Building Challenge. Are you ready to go?
Phil: I’d love to talk about it.
Chris: Alright. Well, one of the cool things about us doing this podcast (like we did with the Passive House one, where we each had a building that was Passive House) – and I think we even mentioned this project on that podcast: the Ecology School is a project that your firm and my firm and one other firm (Scott Simons Architects), and actually a landscape firm of Richardson & Associates.
Phil: We’re all doing it together.
Chris: Yep, all doing it together.
Phil: It’s been a great collaboration. Very interesting.
Chris: It’s the ecology of architects (and that’s no joke. That’s what we’re calling ourselves.). That’s kind of the approach that we’ve had. It’s basically, check your egos at the door and come together and really dive into this Living Building, Living Community, process that we’re doing. It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of eye-opening experiences.
Phil: Yeah, a ton of learning. And really, the more of us who are doing this, the more we can spread the word, the more we learn faster…
Phil: …because there’s a lot that goes into it. And frankly, there have not been a lot of opportunities to do a Living Building. It takes a brave organization who really has strong goals to make a difference. And the Ecology School is a spectacular organization. I know you agree with me, Chris.
Chris: Oh, absolutely! Yeah.
Phil: They’re going for it, and we’re grateful for organizations like that who do that, because they really push us forward in substantial ways.
Phil: And that’s really at the heart of what Living Building is.
Chris: Right. It’s basically realizing your place on the planet and the role that you play, and being a force for good and not a consuming creature that just makes waste in its wake.
In fact, maybe now is the time that I talk about the metaphor of the flower for Living Building. So, if someone comes up and asks you, “Phil, what is a Living Building?” You say something like, “It tries to…”
Phil: It’s like a philosophy, a certification, an advocacy tool.
Chris: That’s right.
Phil: But there’s a more powerful way to say it.
Phil: Whenever you say the flower thing, Chris just pumps his fist…
Chris: I love this thing!
Phil: …he bends down, he squints up his eyes, and he gets into it!
Chris: It’s the metaphor: the flower.
Phil: Give it to me. Give it to me, baby.
Chris: It’s the metaphor: the flower.
If you imagine a flower in a field, it harvests all of its energy in water right there in its spot. It’s adapted to its climate and its site. It belongs there. It was grown there. It’s a part of the ecology there. It operates pollution-free. And it’s comprised of all of its systems that keep it alive (They are all integrated and connected and they’re a part of the ecology.). And it’s beautiful. Everything it needs, it gets right there.
And that flower metaphor is not really mine, people. If you go to the Living Building (the ILFI is the International Living Futures Institute), you go there and you can find any of this information and right away you’ll see the flower metaphor.
But it’s a good metaphor for what this certification is.
Phil: It’s beautiful. It really is. Single tier, right here, Chris.
Chris: Oh yeah. Is that why you’re tattooed there?
Phil: That’s right! [laughs]
Chris: I thought you killed someone in prison! It’s because you’re weeping for the planet.
Phil: I’m not allowed to talk about that. Not on this episode.
Chris: Okay. Harrumph.
Phil: Yeah. It goes beyond us making buildings that are less bad and turning them into things that are truly regenerative.
Chris: Right, right. So that, for example, (we’ll get into this when we talk about the Petals, but) they have to be Net Positive Energy (not just net zero). Same with the water… it has to be Net Zero Water so that you’re not polluting, you’re not creating more waste than you’re using water.
So maybe we ought to (well, before we get into the Petals)…
Phil: Right. I think it’s important to make a couple of points here.
Phil: One, that there are three ways to certify.
Chris: Right. So, we’re talking about building certifications. So, your clients come to you and say, “We want to do a Living Building Challenge.”
Phil: “We’ve thought about Passive House – we might want to do that. We might want to do LEED.”
Phil: This is another one. Okay, you want to do a Living Building? Here are the things that you can do. You can do a full certification, where you can do all of the Petals (that we’re going to talk about in a moment). You can do three Petals – that’s a Petal certification.
Phil: And then you can also do a Net Zero Energy Building certification.
Chris: Right. Which is basically just the Energy Petal, essentially.
Phil: There are three ways to do it. And we mentioned LEED, Chris, but this is different than LEED.
Chris: Yeah, if you imagine… You and I, back in the old days (Can we say that? LEED – the old days?)
Phil: Back in the old days…
Chris: When I was a kid. When I was a young whippersnapper doing buildings, we had LEED.
Chris: If you imagine the spirit that kicked off LEED, that drive to transform the marketplace and change the world and change the way that we all design and build – which I would argue, that it succeeded. Dude, you can go down to the hardware store right now and buy zero VOC paint. Thank you, LEED!
That was nowhere ten years ago. You had to really work for it. It was people wanting these products that transform the marketplace and got them to start providing it.
Phil: That’s right.
Chris: It’s not just transforming the marketplace, it’s introducing a whole philosophy of construction and building.
Phil: Right. And making more of these things more readily available and more transparent.
Phil: It’s really about transparency. Just tell us. Let us know what goes into these things. And by the very act of creating transparency and offering that to the general public, there’s a natural tendency to want to make things better.
Phil: That’s the hope. That’s the goal.
Chris: Right. And so, where LEED went into checklists and a lot of bureaucracy (not to say that there isn’t bureaucracy. There is administration work.). There is a lot of paperwork involved, especially when it gets into the Materials Petal with this, but it’s more iterative. It’s more back and forth with the Living Futures people. It’s a lot more (dare I say) intimate relationship with the people who are certifying your building, because every building is looked at as its own case. It’s not this massive thing that you need a checklist for because they’re getting thousands of these every day. It’s a little different. It’s sort of like the core spirit that launched LEED has stayed true and here it is in a different certification.
Phil: Right. So why are we doing this? This is the thing that gets me when I say that it’s the next big thing – that almost sounds artificial – but the reality is, it is an incredibly powerful thing, that we think must be the next big thing.
Chris: Right. And it’s very hard to do. And very honorable to do. Yeah, if you have a Living Building, a true Living Building, then you have a building that is neutral to the planet’s progression. A sustainable building. A truly sustainable building.
Phil: So, we’re really in the early adopter mode.
Phil: We’re grateful to be able to work on one of these projects. But let’s talk a little bit more, Chris, about how you actually get full certification.
Phil: Basically, there is a series of Petals.
Phil: Seven Petals. Do you want to talk about the Transect thing, before we jump into that?
Chris: Sure. Yeah, I probably should. When you do your Petals… When ILFI looks at your project, it first looks at what kind of project you are. It makes a difference if you’re doing something urban or agricultural or if you’re in a village campus setting or if you’re in an urban core zone (versus an urban center zone). They have just different zones.
Step one: figure out which zone you are, because that changes some aspects of your certification in terms of like, how you treat parking, or how much area do you give to the automobile versus…
Phil: Right. Or to growing things.
Phil: If you’re a rural agriculture zone versus an urban core zone…
Chris: You’re going to be expected to provide a lot of…
Phil: Grow a lot more.
Phil: Right. You’ve got the room. Do it. So, it tries to accommodate for different zones.
Chris: Right. You’re going to be expected to provide a certain amount of your food onsite, no matter what building you are, because this is a permaculture idea (less so if you’re in the urban environment, because it recognizes you’re not going to go out and grow corn on the sidewalk because that’s really hard to do).
Phil: You could pop corn on the sidewalk, with the right conditions from what I understand.
Chris: You can. Not today.
Phil: Not today.
Chris: Not in Maine.
Phil: Not in Maine. Not ever.
Chris: I’m drinking now.
So, choose your Transect: one through six.
Phil: Then you’ve got seven Petals.
Chris: That’s right.
Phil: Okay, so they’re: Place,
Phil: Water, Energy, Health + Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty.
Chris: Right. Now, a lot of those, I’m sure people are like, “Sure… Energy, Water, Place, Materials. But, Health + Happiness, Phil?”
Phil: And Beauty? Love it!
Chris: And Equity?!
Chris: It’s like, “Wait! Are you going to judge us on how equitable we are? How beautiful we are?” How do you…? How dare you!
Phil: That’s judgement!
Chris: That’s judgement! So, everyone relax!
Phil: Architects must be in charge of this.
Phil: We’re very judgey.
Chris: Right, right. Exactly! This was not devised by engineers.
Phil: [laughs] No. Clearly not.
Chris: Some of it, maybe.
Phil: Well, it’s got its share of spreadsheets, but still.
Chris: You’re right. But still, some of this.
So, let’s break it down.
Phil: Break it on down. So, in those seven Petals, there are twenty Imperatives.
Phil: So, some of these Petals have one Imperative, some have four.
Phil: And it doesn’t get more than that. I think it’s worth going through each one of these, Chris.
Chris: We’re not going to get into it. If we spend four minutes on each Imperative in each Petal, this is a two-hour or a three-hour thing.
Phil: If you digress more than 30 seconds, I’m going to throw a pen at you. Is that okay?
Chris: That’s perfectly fine with me, Phil.
Chris: And I will catch it like a ninja in the air and fling it back at you.
Chris: And you will be in awe of my Kung Fu.
So, Place is the first Petal, and there are four Imperatives. The first of which is Limits to Growth. I think the thing that really should be brought home here is, you just can’t go building a building anywhere. In the Living Building scenario, if you pick prime farm land and decide, “Uh, I’m going to put a building here,” that’s not the best use of that space, Phil.
Phil: And as we know, the greenest building is the…
Phil: …one that never gets built.
Chris: Excellent! Right. So, you’re judged on your proximity to wetlands, whether you’re doing a brown field or a gray field (and you’re discouraged from green-field development).
Phil: And these are all in your Place. There are four Imperatives under Place: Limits to Growth, Urban Agriculture, which basically sets forth a minimum area for agriculture based on floor-area ratio.
Chris: Right. And then you have Habitat Exchange. Here’s something to note: for every hectic of development, one hectic must be set aside for preservation through the Living Building Exchange. Now, for the Ecology School that we’re working on, that was easy because they are on an agricultural easement already. But for other buildings or projects, that might be a “Oh wait, What? We have to set aside other land for other uses that’s not our building?”
Phil: Yeah, that’s a serious give right there.
Chris: Yep, so that’s a tough one for the Place Petal.
Phil: Right. So again, organizations have to really commit to this.
Phil: This is the real deal here.
Phil: If you do this, you are really doing the right thing for the planet.
Chris: Oh yeah. It’s impressive.
Phil: Number Four: fourth Imperative under Place is Human-Powered Living.
Chris: And that’s basically… LEED always got a lot of crap for “You get a point for the bike rack.”
Phil: [laughs] I remember that!
Phil: I did it in that same voice, too. “Yeah, bike rack.”
Chris: “Yeah, bike rack.” But, these guys are like, “Yeah. We’re trying to get off the car.” You know? So, yeah, you’re expected to ride a certain amount. There’s more to it than that in this Petal, but what you’re trying to do is encourage human-powered transportation to and from and within your project.
Phil: Yeah, outstanding.
Phil: Alright. So, the second Petal is Water.
Phil: Net Positive Water.
Chris: And this is a really easy one (an easy one to describe), because you have sites like, let’s take the Ecology School: We have a well. We have a septic field. And we are basically treating everything within our project. We are getting all of our water (all of our potable water) and we are treating it all onsite, so it is a closed-loop and is net-zero water.
But we actually have to be Net Positive Water. So, we’re expected to go a little bit further and treat that effluent (more than just shoving it in the ground). We’re doing composting toilets, for example, which is one avenue that we’re going to try. And there are some really advanced septic systems that are more organic, less chemical, less power-driven, and safer to install. And the tricky part about this is, if you start using one of those systems, then you’d better check your plumbing codes and your municipalities…
Chris: …and how they feel about some of these things because you might start to do these living gardens, these living sewage-treatment…
Phil: Right. The living machines.
Chris: The living machines. You put one of those outside, and somebody’s like, “Wait, wait, wait… What?”
Phil: “We no likey! That sounds not okay to me.”
Chris: Yeah. “Your effluence is just going to go into a garden? You’re telling me this is going to be a long-term solution? Shut it down.”
Chris: But we’re saying, “No. It can totally work.” So, there’s more to it than just the perfect circle of Net Water Positivity. There’s also rain catchment systems, rain storage, and trying to get off your municipal sewer system (Maybe you’re an urban center. This becomes a much harder thing to achieve when you’re in a more urban environment.).
Phil: I imagine the rules are pretty different in an urban environment for this, Chris. I don’t know.
Chris: They’re not that different.
Chris: If you want this Petal, Net Positive Water, then you need to be net positive with your water. So, think about that in your urban environment. So, that means onsite waste treatment… and BOOM!
Phil: Some places have done this.
Chris: Alright. Maybe this is a good place for me to talk about Scale Jumping. They do allow this thing called Scale Jumping and what that is, is sometimes you’re not able to achieve one of these Petals completely within your constrained site (it could be very difficult), and so they allow you…
For example, we could talk about solar. Maybe your roof… maybe you’re totally shaded. There’s no way you’re going to make it on the renewables. But you could install renewables on some other building somewhere in your vicinity…
Chris: …and that will count. You’re basically still keeping to the…
Phil: Ah, so that’s what Scale Jumping is.
Chris: That’s what Scale Jumping is. You can jump to the next scale out and still succeed. So, you might have problems with water, and you can maybe treat somebody else’s septic system, or treat somebody else’s water and effluent, and get your credit that way.
Phil: That’s really cool! I didn’t know that.
Chris: Yeah. They want you to get creative. So, if you’re boxed in and you’re like, “I can’t do it on our building. Well, forget it.” No, no no!
Phil: Do something.
Chris: Do something. You can still do it. And they’re behind you, and they’ll help you, and it’s not like they’re there to shut you down.
Phil: Okay. So, Petal three is Net Positive Energy.
Chris: Right. And this one’s a little bit easier. Right?
Phil: Yeah. I mean, we’re kind of used to doing this. You’ve heard us talk about net zero for a long time (where you produce more energy than you consume), and this is like, you go the next step.
Chris: Right. And you’re supposed to provide 105 percent of your power onsite, but the trick is (and this is true with almost everything, all your Petals) that you have to prove a year’s worth of data to show that you are, in fact, Net Positive. So, it’s not like Passive House where you have your model and they’re like, “Yup.”
Phil: “Good enough!”
Chris: “Good job! You did it.” Passive House. You have to…
Phil: Prove it.
Chris: …prove it for a year. So, you might not make it in the first year and you’re like, “Darn! We were so close.” Well, you make these adjustments and then you do it again. And the next year you’re like, “Oh! Here we go! It worked.”
Phil: Of course, as we know, there’s no such thing as net-zero buildings. There are only net-zero people.
Chris: That’s right, Phil. You’re full of great phrases today.
Phil: [laughs] I have them all, don’t I?
Chris: That’s great. So yeah, Net Positive.
Phil: So, I have a question for you: Do you have to continue to be Net Positive year after year, or is it just the first year?
Chris: It’s just a year. “Show us a year where you’re Net Positive.”
Phil: So, move all the people out the first year, and then you can move them in in the second year.
Chris: Well, it has to be a realistic year.
Phil: Okay, that’s probably a good idea.
Chris: Right. It’s not like the year where everyone was gone for three months or whatever.
Chris: Unless they’re always gone for those three months.
Chris: No, that’s okay. My drink’s a little low. Maybe we should freshen up and let our sponsors chime in.
Phil: That sounds great.
Chris: Alright. Let’s take a quick break and stay with us everybody and we’ll be right back.
Chris: And we’re back. Hey, Phil.
Phil: Hey, Chris.
Chris: My drink is refreshed. I feel refreshed. Do you feel refreshed?
Phil: I do.
Chris: Alright. I’ll take this moment to say thank you to the sponsors and say once again that we don’t just let anyone sponsor this podcast. We like to have sponsors that represent products we would specify or…
Phil: And have specified.
Chris: Right, right. …and we think are true, positive, sustainable people.
Phil: That’s right. So, thanks to Chris Brill…
Phil: …of Pinnacle Window Solutions.
Phil: It’s great to have you back as a sponsor, Chris.
Chris: We should point out that he represents Alpen and there are some Alpen windows that are in Living Building Challenge projects right now, and we are actually considering his windows in our current project.
Phil: In the Ecology School.
Chris: Yeah, yeah.
Phil: Thanks to Steve Konstantino…
Phil: …of Performance Building Supply.
Chris: Right. Formerly Green Building Supply, which I almost said, which is great (I mean, it’s a throwback). He’s been doing this for so long. He’s been in our community for so long. He is the host and creator of the Building Science discussion group here in Portland, Maine.
Phil: Which must have started maybe ten years ago. A long time ago.
Chris: Right. With Dan Kolbert. And we’ve been involved.
Phil: Steve is just a real leader. Absolute leader. Back when no one was providing or supplying these products for our green buildings, Steve was there.
Chris: He set up shop, and said, “This is what you want, people.” And, God love him, Man. And he’s still doing it. He’s always the first to adopt something and recognize it’s being great and sure enough, it takes off.
Phil: Yeah. Wonderful business and I’d be very surprised if we didn’t use some of Steve’s products in the Ecology School.
Chris: Oh, I would too. He’ll be there.
Phil: Yeah. Thank you, Chris. Thank you, Steve.
So Chris, where were we?
Chris: I think we wrapped up with Energy.
Phil: That’s right. We talked about Net Positive Energy. So, our next Petal is Health + Happiness.
Chris: Aw, let’s get touchy-feely, Phil.
Phil: You know I love to go there.
Chris: Wait! This is a good Petal. We’re architects, though. And we’re tree-hearted people, so this is going to speak to us. Let’s get into it. There are three Imperatives under the Health + Happiness Petal. Civilized Environment is the first…
Phil: Civilized Environment!
Chris: Exactly! Harrumph! It’s civilized. I’m sure there are architects out there that are like, “Sure. Like I’m going to design something that’s not civilized! Barbarians charging through every five minutes. You know? Burning places down and making off with a copy machine.”
Chris: That’s not going to happen! But what we are talking about is very similar to the LEED requirement of access to daylight and fresh air. Living Building Challenge has a very similar requirement where every occupant has access to daylight and fresh air and they have to be close enough to a window. They can’t just be buried deep into the interior of a building where you’re surrounded by nothing but artificial light.
Phil: Yeah, good stuff. Very civilized.
Chris: Yeah. And then you have your Healthy Interior Environment (it’s another Imperative). And that’s having to do with indoor air quality, not only just being compliant to ASHRAE 62 and prevailing codes, but also setting up indoor air quality measures.
Phil: Not only that, but the cleaning supplies…
Chris: That’s right!
Phil: …that are used in this building have to be stated.
Chris: Right. Your janitorial regime has to be submitted.
Phil: Because you could have the healthiest building in the world, Chris, and then some janitor comes in and decides to use bleach and… and Man, there it goes! Done!
Phil: This watches that. Because, how many people have been frustrated by that? I’m sure that’s happened.
Chris: Tons of people. That’s a common complaint. You’ll get a green building and then someone just ruins it by doing exactly that.
Phil: Right. So, this again, Living Building takes all the things that we’ve learned that have gone wrong and tries to fix them.
Phil: Pretty ambitious.
Chris: Alright, let’s talk about one of our favorites – and everyone who’s doing the Living Building Challenge they really get into it – the Boiphilic Environment, which is the next Imperative in this Petal.
Phil: So how do you describe biophilia easily, Chris?
Chris: Well, I like to describe it by describing what it’s not. Phil, imagine just sitting in this cube of a space. It’s these slabs of rectangles made of synthetic materials that have been so synthesized you don’t even recognize them. I mean, what is sheet rock? You ask a kid what sheet rock is. What is this wall?
Phil: Right. They don’t even know.
Chris: They don’t know. Is there wood in there? Is there metal in there? Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral. What is that?
Phil: No clue what’s behind it.
Chris: It’s painted. So, the more synthesized something gets, and the more divorced you become from nature… I mean, you walk through doors that are rectangles. Where are rectangles in nature? I’m sure they’re there. That’s the industrialized equivalent of your shape as a human is this rectangle that is this thing that you walk through…
Phil: As opposed to the road runner shape busting through the billboard, right? That traces the outline?
Chris: [laughs] Exactly!
Phil: That’s what every door should look like!
Phil: Chris, this is my door. This is your door.
Chris: Right. Personalized. Seriously though, the more removed you become from nature, the more depressed you become.
Phil: Right. We have no innate connection to most of these industrialized shapes and materials around us.
Phil: But stone, wood… A kid can look at a piece of wood and understand it. I know where that came from. I’ve touched one of those outside.
Chris: Right. Biophilic Design is bringing in those elements that remind you of what nature is.
Phil: The materials, the shapes…
Phil: …the sensations.
Chris: Yeah. Do you want to talk about the charrette?
Phil: Yeah. So basically, what you have to do is have a one-day charrette (a full day where you get everyone – all the stakeholders – together and work on the Biophilic Environment within the building that you’re trying to create.). And it can be pretty powerful stuff. The goal is that, when you have everyone there (and not just the architects designing it), that you really have full engagement. You have full buy-in.
Phil: And really, the stakeholders (I mean, the people who are spending money on this) are living or working in these places are now going to have an emotional connection to the space in between.
Chris: Right. It’s like the Ecology School, when we did our charrette, we bring these stakeholders in and you set up breakout sessions. You talk about the different aspects of Biophilic Design and you show them where the building is and you say, “Okay now, your group. You’re going to talk about one aspect of Biophilic Design and come up with some ideas and bring them back and talk about them with everyone else.”
And it’s pretty powerful and pretty amazing what everyone comes up with (and they don’t have to be an architect, Phil). How a building ages, or how is it during daylight, and how is it during nighttime?
Phil: So, can I talk about this?
Chris: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Phil: Specifically, they’re called Kellert’s Elements (and I’m not sure who Kellert is, but you can look it up.). And you might know, but I’m afraid if I ask you, you’re going to tell me.
Chris: Ah, crap!
Chris: I know he was one of the earlier progenitors of the concept of Biophilic Design.
Phil: Yeah, perfect.
Chris: And we’re just going to leave it at that, because I am going to ruin it otherwise.
Phil: Right. So, there are nine elements. Under “Evolved Human Nature Relationships,” there are three elements: “Curiosity and enticement,”
Phil: “Reverence and spirituality,”
Chris: That’s right, hippies.
Phil: “Prospect and refuge.”
Phil: That’s deep stuff.
Chris: That is deep stuff. But these are emotional touchstones that you have at your core as a human.
Phil: Yes. And actual patterns and processes, there’s “Sound and touch.”
Phil: “Age, change, and the patina of time.”
Phil: Yeah. Isn’t that just so meaty?
Chris: I love that! That’s like, having your building… it ages. Are you going to pretend like it doesn’t age?
Chris: Does it age well? Are you going to allow it to show how it ages?
Phil: Are you going to try to keep it perfect forever?
Phil: We know that doesn’t happen.
Phil: That’s artifice.
Phil: That’s not what we’re getting at. It’s the opposite of what happens in nature.
Phil: “Seasonal change.” That totally happens in nature. Man, if you can get a building to respond to the seasons…
Chris: Mm-hmm. Or how the building (or you in the building) responds to those seasons.
Chris: Each one of those is a fun little charrette challenge that architects would just love (and probably engineers would just hate).
Phil: But again, it’s not just the architects who love it.
Phil: Everybody who does this gets into it. And it’s the great equalizer, Chris. As architects, sure we love this stuff. But you don’t have to be an architect to get in and understand these concepts. Again, it’s innate. It’s within us.
Chris: I’ll share an example.
Chris: At the Ecology School (one of the buildings we are working on), we have these exterior stairs and hallways, and we have these slatted wood walls. For us, we were already (the architects) incorporating these ideas of Biophilic… you know, this filtered light aspect. And the charrette people, they took it further and were like, “Well, what if those slats were actually cutouts of nature (birds or trees or something like that)?” And us, as the architects, were like, “Well, I don’t know if we want cutouts of animals in our buildings” – although that’s been done, and well. So, what we ended up doing was laser etching (with the laser etching technology now, it is really easy to etch a scene onto something). So, we actually did that. We took a nature scene and etched it on the inside. So, on the outside, you don’t see it. But you go inside and it’s going to be a surprise!
Chris: On these slatted walls, you just have this impression of nature.
Phil: I just love that!
Chris: It’s just simple, yeah.
Phil: It’s one of my favorite things about the project, Chris. You totally kicked it up a notch. And the cool thing about it, is that the stakeholders are going to come back and say, “Well, where’s that thing we asked for?”
Chris: Right. This is it!
Phil: Right. It used to be that we used to have to try to push and push to keep these things in, but they were part of the generation of these great ideas and they understand the heart and the emotion. And one of the things that I always say is that communication is the transfer of emotion.
Chris: Yeah! God, you’re good, Phil!
Phil: Yeah, that’s another one (another zinger that I didn’t come up with). But that’s how we’re getting this across to folks. Getting through via emotion, the idea of the Living Building Challenge and really what it means to us.
The last three of Kellert’s Elements: “Light and shadow.”
Phil: “Filtered and diffused light.”
Phil: “Night and day.”
Chris: Night and day.
Phil: How is the building different in night and day?
Chris: When you’re in the building, can you actually experience nighttime (while you are in the building)? We’re all about the daylight and views. What about the night sky? Are we going to…?
Phil: Is there a place to look up at the stars?
Chris: Yeah. Or can you go outside and experience it? With the Ecology School, it’s very exciting because these kids will be outside at night. So, they get to experience not only the building at night, but just outside the building at night. It’s pretty fun!
Phil: Anyway, one of my favorite Petals and one of my favorite Imperatives.
Phil: Yours, too.
Chris: Yeah. Here’s my least favorite Petal…
…it’s the Materials Petal. That’s the next one.
Phil: And yet, it may be the most important.
Chris: Yeah. And it’s definitely the heaviest lift, for sure. Hands down. I mean, sure, we talked about being Net Positive Energy and Water and all that, but this…
Alright, Materials. Let’s hit the Imperatives. So, we have the Red list. So, there are materials that are not allowed in your building. And these materials, these have been determined to just have the most far-reaching impacts on the environment.
Phil: PVC. Lead. Formaldehyde.
Phil: PFC’s. VOC’s.
Chris: Exactly. And surprising, Neoprene. Oh, Chloro-neoprene, Phil. Where is that? So, here’s the thing (and this is why it’s hard)…
Phil: It hides.
Chris: Right. And we just glossed over PVC. Yeah, how many buildings do you know that don’t have PVC in them at all?
Phil: I don’t know a single one, and I know a lot of buildings!
Chris: I don’t know. This piece of my microphone right here could be PVC. I mean, it is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. So, you’re setting off to do a building that does not have these materials. So, you think at first, “Okay, great! I’m not going to do that. Instead of PVC, I’m going to use cast-iron, copper, PEX (you can still use PEX).”
Chris: And you can even use ABS, that type of thing. But it’s really digging into this that you discover what you can use. I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself, but essentially the Red list is going to make it so that you have to document what is in your building. And if you take a moment and think about how many products (the building you just designed or built or constructed), how many products were in that building?
Phil: Probably thousands, actually.
Chris: Okay. For every one of these products (every one of these materials that are going in), you have to research it, document it, and verify it. So, if you imagine just spending one hour, Phil, per material just to do that, you just said, “Wow. I’m going to spend thousands of hours.” So, don’t. You have to really reduce the number of materials in your building.
Phil: And it’s not the number of products.
Chris: Not products.
Phil: It’s materials.
Phil: So, a product… If you specify a heat pump (a minisplit)…
Chris: Okay, yeah.
Phil: Right? How many materials goes into… Who even knows what those materials are?
Phil: If you call up Mitsubishi or Daikin and you say, “Hey, I need a list of everything that goes into that unit and where it all came from.”
Chris: Right. Including the refrigerant, by the way.
Phil: Including the refrigerant! Right?
Phil: All the screws that hold it together.
Chris: But here’s the thing, okay? Don’t freak out, everybody, because you’re like, “Oh yeah? How am I not going to do heat pumps?” You’re going to do heat pumps. It’s okay, because you get a break. They’re not crazy granola fascists over at ILFI. Well, maybe they are.
Phil: Oh, they are! But they’re nice.
Chris: But they’re nice.
Phil: And they’re reasonable.
Chris: Right. They’re nice granola fascists.
Phil: They’re reasonable.
Chris: They’re Quaker Oats granola fascists. What you have to do then, is actually prove that you’ve tried to have three vendors – you have three vendors that you’ve chased down – and they do not have what you need that doesn’t have the materials that are the offending thing. And then you have to prove that you wrote them a letter requesting that they…
Phil: You’re writing the letter. I love that!
Chris: Yeah. So, for every time that there’s a product in violation, there’s a letter (there are three letters, really, to three different companies) saying, “We need this and would you please try to provide it for our project?” And they say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Alright. So, we have this Red list chock full of materials. How do you manage it all? For the Ecology School, your firm and ours and everyone involved – that’s the thing (it’s not just one person – though I should say, your office has been spearheading a lot of the championing of the…)
Phil: Right. Every single contractor and consultant…
Chris: Yep. They have to get on board with this. And we’re working with a company as a consultant who has a materials database. It’s Integrated Eco Strategy and they have already this database of a lot of pre-vetted materials. They’ve already done this before with other projects. So, why hold onto that, you know? It’s a precious list.
But, in the end, you still have to research… This insulation type, for example. It was perfectly acceptable in the last LBC project, but is it still acceptable a year later?
Phil: Right. You have to check it again.
Chris: Two years later? We still have to check it. And you still have to provide the documentation for it.
Phil: And from what I understand, they say if you want to have any chance of this, you want to keep it to six hundred.
Chris: Five hundred.
Phil: Five hundred.
Chris: Try to have five hundred materials.
Phil: That’s it.
Chris: And you think, “Oh, that’s easy.” No, it’s not. I’ll tell you right now: no, it’s not. Because our industry is designed to push these synthesized materials in your face and in your building. And the second you think you’ve got it figured out? Oh my gosh, something will show up.
Alright. So, that’s the hard one.
Phil: Yeah, it’s definitely the hard one. The next one: Embodied Carbon Footprint.
Chris: That’s right. So, you have to actually do a life cycle analysis on your building and figure out what its carbon footprint is. What’s the embodied carbon in the building? And then you have to purchase CER’s of carbon offsets through the Living Building Carbon Exchange. And they give you calculators. So that sounded very cryptic, but essentially, what you’re doing is you’re trying to balance out the embodied energy of your building. So, you’re going to provide renewable energy in the same amount (in the form of credits).
Chris: And then…
Phil: Responsible Industry.
Chris: Yup. And this is a great moment to talk about the Declare program that ILFI has. So, just like the label on your mac and cheese – and you’re wondering “What is the yellow dye?” – and it’s on there. (I think it’s on there. I don’t know, but…)
Chris: It’s an ingredients list of things in every material. So (I’m trying to think of who’s got…), like Toto, for example. They’ve got a few products that have…
Phil: Not the band.
Chris: No. [laughs]
Phil: I have that song in my head, I want you to know.
Chris: I’m sorry! No, I’m not sorry. You deserve to have that song in your head.
Doo-duh-doo-doo-doo. Di-di-didit-di-di-did. Oh my God. I’m sorry, listeners. Maybe we’ll edit that out (or not, depending on how we feel). Toto, the Japanese plumbing manufacturer – because hey, chrome is an offender.
Phil: Right. That was that chromium IV on that list?
Phil: I don’t know what that is. I was like, “Oh no, that’s chrome. That’s in every piece of plumbing you’ve ever seen or touched in your entire life. You can’t have that.”
Chris: That’s right. Even if you pick out the lavatory (the actual sink thing), guess what? It comes with a couple of little chrome parts and washers that go on it, and you didn’t even know about that. It’s not in the brochures. It’s nowhere. It shows up.
Phil: Yeah, but this is about increasing transparency…
Phil: …and about changing the industry.
Phil: So, with Declare, these companies now have to put forward (like Toto)…
Chris: Right. So, they have the Declare label on a lot of their products. So, if we pick that up, we know what’s in the product that we’re buying. It’s all listed right there, and it comes from ILFI (or they have to meet that…).
It’s what we all want, guys. It’s like a label for what you’re putting into your building. My God, if we incorporate that, then so much of this crap is going to not happen.
Phil: That’s right. Be honest. Come clean. That’s what this is about. Then you write the letters to these companies and eventually, if they want to get specified, they’re going to have to change the way they do things.
Chris: Yeah. It’s like Charley Stevenson said, “What’s your favorite endocrine disruptor to build with?”
Phil: [laughs] What’s your favorite?
Chris: Yeah. What’s your favorite carcinogen that you’d like to use in your building? And he’s with Integrated Eco Strategy, who we’re working with. So, shout out to him and I hope he doesn’t mind me using his quote.
Anyway, so that’s Responsible Industry.
Phil: And, Living Economy Sourcing.
Chris: And this is very similar to the LEED requirement where everything has to be within 500 miles. Remember that?
Phil: Yeah, yeah. Different metrics here.
Chris: Yeah. Kilometers.
Phil: That’s a different metric, yeah. Trying to get things close.
Chris: Right. And it is… Oh, hang on just a second.
Phil: And it’s based on cost as I understand it.
Chris: Right. It’s a percentage of cost. So, you could have something that’s very expensive, very close and something very cheap that’s far away.
Phil: Right. So, that’s what you do. Get most expensive things, have them close.
Phil: If only we had windows made in Maine, Chris.
Chris: Right. Number 14 is Net Positive Waste. And, like LEED, that’s basically landfill diversion. You have to show a large amount of waste that is diverted from landfills.
And that brings us to the Equity Petal, Phil.
Chris: That’s broken down into four other Imperatives. Human Scale + Humane Places.
Phil: Yeah, we could probably move through these pretty quickly.
Chris: I think so. Human Scale + Humane Places is basically (the real emphasis there is) putting the design orientation towards people, not cars.
Phil: And not cars. Right.
Chris: Exactly. And then you have Universal Access to Nature + Place. And this is very similar to just Universal Design – it’s just making everything accessible to everybody.
Phil: Yeah. Fresh air, sunlight, water, natural waterways. Minimizing building shading.
Chris: Right. And everyone in that building gets an equal opportunity to get all those things, no matter their condition or race or whatever.
Phil: Equitable Investment is Imperative Number 17.
Chris: Oh yeah! And this is one that’ll catch you really off guard if you didn’t realize it (or the owner, if they didn’t know). For every one dollar of the project cost, 0.005 dollars – so, that is (wait!) 5 tenths of a cent (I think I’ve got that right).
Phil: Yep. Shall be donated to charity. So, you’ve got to give money away to charity.
Chris: Right. And you think that’s not a lot, but you go ahead and multiply a million times 0.005.
Phil: Right. A million-dollar project is $5,000.
Phil: I mean, these projects are more than a million.
Chris: Right! Yeah. I mean, you have a $20 million project.
Phil: Right. That’s $100,000.
Chris: Yeah. Right. God!
Phil: You’re giving away…
Chris: To charity.
Phil: …to charity.
Chris: To balance out.
Phil: That’s kind of awesome. You’ve got to be a leader. You’ve got to be bold.
Chris: That’s right.
Phil: You’re going to be generous.
Chris: Alright. Now, let’s talk about this, Phil. Just Organizations. The same way that the Materials (the companies and industry have the Declare label), what about the companies and people involved in the project, who are engineers and installers and that sort of thing. Or architects.
Phil: Or architects. You have to have a Just label. The Just label is the equivalent.
Chris: I want to congratulate you guys over at Kaplan Thompson. You guys went through the Just label certification.
Chris: And you’re inspiring us to do the same thing.
Chris: We’re going to do it. Everyone’s probably eventually going to do it, which is the thing.
Phil: We were the first in Maine…
Phil: …which is not necessarily just to tap ourselves on the back and to say how hard it is to do.
Chris: So, what’d you find out about yourselves and about the process?
Phil: We found out that we needed to change things (that we thought we were really good at certain things).
Phil: But, we needed to get better at them. We needed to really walk the walk.
Phil: Gender equity and pay scales…
Phil: Social contributions…
Phil: Diversity. All those things that we thought we were pretty good at. I mean, our office is probably a 50/50 gender split.
Chris: Which is amazing and great.
Phil: Yeah. But we’re not doing great on every single one of them.
Phil: But it’s changed the way we’ve done things.
Chris: Right. And it shows up. So, I can go see how you’re doing on those because you have a Just label certification.
Phil: Completely transparent.
Chris: But then, the question is, if somebody is checking your firm out and checking my firm out, yours has one and mine doesn’t. Then I’m going to be like, “Oh, we’re gender equal.” And they’re going to look around the office and anyone who’s a female is not in today, and they’re going to be like, “I don’t think so, Buddy!”
Phil: Right. Prove it!
Chris: “I’m going to Kaplan Thompson Architects, where they’ve got the label!”
Phil: [laughs] Here we are. The more of us that do this…
Phil: …the better it is for everyone.
Chris: Right. Exactly.
Phil: It’s a good thing.
Chris: It’s changing the marketplace. Exactly.
This is great: the last Petal is Beauty. They’re not just going to let any ugly duckling come through. It’s got to have some real content to it. It’s got to be, you know, a swan duckling.
Phil: Right. There was something special about the ugly duckling, I’d thought.
Chris: Exactly, exactly. It was a swan duckling.
Phil: Beauty. I still don’t quite understand how they judge this. I understand how we judge it.
Chris: Well, you get to write a narrative about what makes your building beautiful. And no, it’s not on the same level as the architects. If you ask me, “Why is your building beautiful?” Oh, I could go into all these great things about what architecturally makes it beautiful. And they’d be like, “No, no, no. What have you done for the sake of human delight, solely for the sake of human delight?”
Phil: And they talk to the occupants. That’s part of it.
Chris: Yeah. You have to have a survey a year later with the occupants about what is beautiful, and what do they find beautiful.
Phil: God! Isn’t this an amazing practice for us as architects? What if we always had to do that?
Phil: I mean, the negative reputation of an architect is that you serve yourself. You’ve got this dream that you need to see through, and you’re only thinking about your own ego.
Phil: This just totally squashes that. No, you can’t. You really need to think about how everyone else experiences this, not just you.
Chris: Right. A year later, is anyone going to say the same sentence out of their mouth that you said to the client about why the building was beautiful during the presentation?
Chris: If they do, great! You did it, you did it!
Phil: Could there be anything more satisfying as an architect?
Chris: No, no. How awesome will it be if you just have this survey of people who are stating all these same beautiful things that you thought were beautiful in the building.
Phil: Right. Just a kid who comes in and says something like, “Wow! I just like the way it feels when I come in here. I like the quality of light.”
Chris: Right. To be honest, I don’t know how you fail this one. I guess you fail it by not trying, and not really following it through, and not really having something. No content.
Phil: I love the rigor. I love the survey.
Phil: We have to be accountable, and this is the first certification that’s tried to make you accountable for beauty.
Chris: Right. That’s pretty amazing.
Phil: Pretty amazing.
Chris: And then, the last Imperative is Inspiration + Education. And, of course, this is opening up your building to the public to experience the building and educate them on the Living Building Challenge.
Phil: You need a website. You need a brochure for it.
Chris: Yup, yup. For the Ecology School, they were like, “Done! Easy. Happy” because that’s what they want.
Phil: That’s what they do anyway.
Chris: They’re going to shout it from the mountaintops.
Alright, Phil. Phew! That was a lot.
Phil: Yeah. That’s kind of like how it feels getting through the project itself.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. And you multiply that times the amount of time you spend on it and it’s a heavy lift, but it’s one that I…
Phil: You feel good after… right?
Chris: You do! And it’s a rewarding one. Here’s the thing: you’re changing the marketplace, but does it change you, Phil? Do you think it’s changed you as an architect, just working on a Living Building Challenge?
Phil: I can tell you, we just had an office retreat (we do those once a year) and we decided to do a Biophilic charrette on one of our projects, even though we’re not going for a Living Building Challenge.
Chris: Oh, cool! As part of the retreat?
Phil: Just as part of the retreat.
Phil: Let’s take a lobby of this affordable housing project we’re doing in South Portland…
Phil: …and let’s apply Kellert’s Elements.
Phil: And we broke out into small groups. And I was dubious at first, but Man, it was fun! It was just fun, Chris.
Chris: That’s great!
Phil: It was really exciting. And we came up with wonderful ideas. I realized this is how we should be talking all the time to our clients. Sometimes I think in the practice of architecture, we forget the spirit of what we’re doing (the things that we learned in school) when we’re talking about the elemental ideas and their seeds of inspiration. We think about, “Oh, how are we going to get this project on budget.” Yes, you and I always talk about the sustainability aspect, but the richness, the biophilic aspect on top of that?
Phil: Pretty damn exciting. Pretty damn inspiring. I’m pretty convinced that’s what makes great architecture.
Phil: So, we were like, “That was fun.” We’re going to start doing pinups on regular projects.
Chris: That’s great.
Phil: So, that’s what we decided.
Phil: We’re trying to change our materials library.
Phil: We’re going to have a section of our materials library that’s just materials that have been vetted and are “zero Red list” items.
Phil: Get the Declare thumbs up.
Phil: Even though it’s not a Living Building itself…
Phil: …we’re smarter about these things. And there are some projects that we suggest to just go for the Materials Petal.
Phil: You don’t have to go through all of them.
Chris: Or, everything but the Materials Petal, if they don’t have the rigor.
Phil: Right. That’s it.
Chris: You being the designer, this is how we are now. It’s one thing to read that Red list, but it’s another to go through a project where you’re like, “Oh, I have to come up with a different way.” Electrical wiring is all jacketed in PVC. What do you do, Phil? You know? Romex. That’s PVC shielding it.
Phil: Right. It’s everywhere.
Chris: Yeah. So, it’s tough (Not that that ripples into all of the projects, but now we know it.). And now we know that there are other materials available that are better and more sustainable.
Phil: Well, I’ll tell you one more thing that someone came up with the idea of: what if we had a letter (a pre-written form letter for the most part, that basically says when one of the products we want to use…
Chris: Oh yeah!
Phil: …on a regular project – not a Living Building project
Chris: Oh wow!
Phil: …but, a regular project). We wanted to find something in our library and we couldn’t. Let’s just send them a letter.
Phil: How hard is that, really? If we’re really trying to be true to what we believe, take that literally. Five minutes.
Phil: Put down the manufacturer’s name. Write down their address and put a stamp on it. Have a little stack next to each person. Just do it. Try it for a while.
Phil: Could we do that? I don’t know.
Chris: I don’t know. Maybe.
Phil: I like the idea.
Chris: I like the idea. We could all do it.
Phil: We could all do it without having a wealthy, early adopter client. We can still help to change the industry.
Phil: That’s how you start now. Don’t make this a dream, if you care about it.
Chris: Alright. I think we’ll do Pet Projects and Six-digit Ideas another time, because this a big long podcast.
Phil: It’s a big one.
Chris: So, I think it’s time for the song. Help me out, Phil. Let’s change the mood.
Or, you got something else?
Phil: No, no. I’m going to do a quick shout out to my son, Owen.
Phil: He’s at school. He’s a freshman at Earlham College.
Phil: And he sent me a text last week that said he and a few of his friends who are studying Sustainability at school actually were listening to our podcasts.
Chris: Oh my God!
Phil: Hey, Ow!
Chris: Hey, Ow!
Phil: He’s an awesome, awesome kid and I’m really happy to hear…
Phil: …that our podcast is getting to kids in Indiana…
Phil: …and hopefully not making them stupider!
Chris: I’m sure it’s not making them stupider. Maybe nerdier!
Phil: [laughs] I don’t know. It’s a pretty nerdy school.
Chris: Oh yeah. Alright. Good on him.
Phil: [laughs] Good on him. Hey, you want to hear about the song?
Chris: I do! I do.
Phil: So, this is a new album from Panda Bear.
Phil: So, Panda Bear, you may know or recognize the name from Animal Collective.
Phil: The album’s called “Buoys.”
Phil: That’s my Baltimore accent, Hon, and that happens to be where Panda Bear is from.
Chris: No way!
Phil: Yeah. Not Bowie, Maryland, which is a town in Maryland, but it’s outside Baltimore, and I’m from Baltimore.
Phil: So, that’s how he and I both used to speak, apparently.
Chris: Oh wow. You sound terrible.
Chris: No, I’m glad you lost that accent.
Phil: Try growing up in my community. That’s what everyone sounded like.
Chris: Oh, I’m sorry. Anyway?
Phil: So, it’s off his new album.
Phil: The song is “Buoys.” I hope you like it. Short, sweet, a happy one.
Chris, this was a fun episode.
Chris: This was fun! Let’s do this again – for you guys, next month. As the song takes us out, let me just remind you all to go to www.greenbuildingadvisor.com where you can get more content. Go up to the Blog section, type in Green Architects’ Lounge. You can find a whole bunch of our good stuff. Our theme music is “Zelda’s Theme” by Perez Prado. You can also go to our lame Facebook page where we will be lame and maybe try to respond to your comments.
Phil: But I will post the recipe for our Notorious F.L.I.P.
Chris: Fantastic! And this is also a reminder that our views and drinking habits do not necessarily reflect those of www.greenbuildingadvisor.com.
Phil, it’s been a pleasure.
Phil: Chris, cheers!
Phil: See ya next time.
[The episode closes with a song by Panda Bear: “Buoys.”]
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