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Georgia Tech Plans Eco-Friendly ‘Living Building’

Georgia Tech wants to build a $25 million structure called a ''Living Building.''
Credit Alison Guillory / WABE

In general, buildings are not good for the environment. Some do less harm than others, but now, Georgia Tech wants to build a $25 million structure that actually does good. It’s called a “Living Building.”

On the campus of Georgia Tech, there’s this huge oak.

“It’s a signature tree on our campus,” says Georgia Tech’s Director of Capital Planning Howard Wertheimer, “and we want to preserve it. So how they site the building will be respectful of this tree.”

This is the space that will house Tech’s 42,000 square-foot Living Building.

The idea behind the project? A structure that does more than minimize a negative environmental impact. It will create a positive one. Eco-friendly materials will compose these three stories, which will include a large, porch-like structure, and connect to a campus quad Wertheimer calls the “Eco-commons.” That space will uncover a stream long buried under a parking lot and enclosed in pipes.

But more than simple prettiness, this is about advocacy, says project manager John DuConge. The environmental standards for Living Buildings are among the most stringent.

“And what that means is, we’re going to hold more water on the site than what we actually use and consume, and then we’re going to generate more energy through solar rays than we actually consume,” DuConge says. 

These standards – a building producing more water and energy than it takes in – are tough, especially in the hot, humid and drought-prone South.

And that may be why a Living Building has never been built here before, DuConge says.

A team made up of professionals and Tech students are working to crack the code. Their guiding principle is: How would nature do it?

They’re looking at solutions like treating and re-using wastewater on-site. The building won’t be air conditioned. Instead, they’re considering novel methods of air ventilation, like using water misters in air shafts. Of course, that big shady oak will help.

Beyond being a fun challenge for building nerds, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Shelly Buso says this project will give Tech students fresh ideas they can take with them after they graduate, influencing the way construction is done in the decades to come.

“So inevitably, the market responds to that,” Buso says, “to create more sustainability within our built environment as a whole.”

The school is planning more Living Buildings in the years ahead. This one is slated for completion by 2020.

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