I recently read an article in the Sustainable Business Oregon section of the Portland Business Journal about a community center in North Portland being built under the Living Building Challenge guidelines. I was instantly intrigued. I hopped on the web and began learning more about the Living Building Challenge – and what a challenge it is! Upon a cursory review of the Challenge standard’s outline, its about 50 pages, I noticed that they have seven categories or as they refer to them, “Petals.” These include: site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty. Within the Petals there are 20 imperatives. For instance, projects may only be built on greyfields or brownfields (previously developed sites without negative environmental impacts on sensitive habitats), contribute to a pedestrian-friendly community, must be net zero water facilities, 100% of the energy needs have to be provided by an on-site renewable energy source, high air quality standards must be met and its design should incorporate natural elements. Its a pretty tough challenge – so tough in fact that the Portland Business Journal reports that only four buildings are currently in the process of becoming Living Building certified.
One element that I found very exciting about the Challenge was the materials imperatives. There is a “Red List” of materials that cannot be used in the project – including things like asbestos, lead, petrochemicals and other materials known to be harmful to humans and the environment. But what was more intriguing was the limitations on products and services being obtained locally and regionally. I find it very exciting that a local person or business will be sourced to find a solution to issues in construction of this community center which would perhaps lead to innovation in building standards and materials everywhere. What a wonderful opportunity for local businesses to take advantage of this Challenge and showcase their ideas and products. As stated on the International Living Building Institute’s website, “Despite the rigor encapsulated in the Living Building Challenge, project teams are confident that the theoretical requirements are solvable. However, there are both perceived and real limitations to success. The ILBI is dedicated to providing cutting edge research and practical tools to support the creation of Living Buildings and to shed some light on these influencing factors.”
Mark Nye from Nye Architecture in Northwest Portland is tasked with transforming the abandoned gas station at the corner of Albina and Ainsworth into a small, non-profit community center – the June Key Delta House – which will be a showcase for the highest standards in green building.
To me the concept of attaining Living Building certification marks a turning point in our culture’s measurement of successful development and renovation – no longer is success simply measured on function, pleasing form and did the project fall within the budget but did it also meet standards that will minimize the impact on the environment and truly enhance the livability of the community.