What Is a Living Building?

Part philosophy, part advocacy, the Living Building Challenge is pushing designers and homeowners to rethink how we live

We’ve all heard of sustainable building, but what a few living building? That’s the main target of the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge; it’s an idea that uses nature because the ultimate measure for a building’s performance. The challenge has been called a philosophy, an advocacy tool and a certification system beat one.

You’ve likely seen or examine countless certified LEED and Passive House homes, but as of today, there are only five certified living buildings within the world. With quite 200 registered projects, however, that number is certain to grow. So what exactly may be a living building?

The challenge’s central metaphor maybe a flower. It asks, what if we made our buildings like flowers? What if our buildings could capture and treat all the water they need? What if they might acquire all their energy from renewable energy sources surrounding them? What if they might be uniquely adapted to their place, add cooperation with the systems (buildings) around them, and at an equivalent time be beautiful?

What makes the Living Building Challenge unique is that achievement is outcome-based. Designers of residential or commercial buildings can envision endless ways of achieving the goals of every requirement — called “petals” — and also the ultimate measure of success is that the results. Because the challenge isn't prescriptive, it frees designers to think about creative ways to deal with water, energy, beauty, and more. And instead of asking designers to create “less bad” or “more sustainable” buildings, the challenge sets demanding targets that in some cases have yet to be achieved.

Extending the metaphor of the flower, the challenge is formed from seven requirement petals: place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity, and wonder.
Let’s break those down.


The intent of the place petal is to revive a building’s and its inhabitants’ relationship with nature. It encourages designers to build compact, connected communities and to ask natural systems into urban places.

The challenge asks designers to style projects with humans in mind, instead of automobiles. How would we design our homes, offices, and communities if we relied a touch more on human-powered transportation and public transit?

In addition, the challenge asks that landscape designs emulate the functions of indigenous ecosystems — not copy them directly but plan to mimic their ecosystem services. as an example, providing habitats for local bird populations might be one ecosystem service, as could capturing and treating rainwater.

Because certified living buildings are currently so rare, the photos utilized in this idea book are for illustration purposes only and aren't certified living buildings.

Finally, the place petal looks at the way to introduce food production into the material of buildings, like through urban agriculture. In many low-density and suburban neighborhoods, community gardens are already making a comeback. And in additional urban environments, projects can educate children and adults through the utilization of smaller demonstration gardens


The challenge treats water as a precious resource that will be reused repeatedly then purified again into a portable form. It asks projects to mimic natural water flows during a healthy ecosystem, where the wastewater from one organism is a beverage for subsequent. In other words, designers and homeowners are asked to make closed-loop water systems that don't leave wastewater pollution to neighbors or municipalities to wash up.

All the water needed for a living building project must be collected onsite. this will be accomplished through a spread of techniques, including cisterns, which collect rainwater from rooftops. But to get enough water to measure in desert climates, water collection and storage are often a serious engineering feat.

The water petal may be a challenge not only from an engineering perspective but from a regulatory perspective. Since capturing and treating rainwater isn't legal altogether places, advocacy may be a major part of accomplishing this petal’s requirements. There are great regulatory success stories that have the beginning of Living Building Challenge projects as a result of advocacy on the part of project teams to bring codes up-to-date with current technology.

The hope is that with time and with grassroots efforts to various municipal and state codes, there'll be more innovative local conservation and recycling projects throughout us and globally


The energy petal is deceptively simple: The project must believe current solar income (that is, renewable energy) for one hundred pc of the project’s energy needs. In fact, with the discharge of the Living Building Challenge 3.0, projects even have to supply more energy than they consume.

As long as a project demonstrates, with 12 months of energy statements, that it's producing 105 percent of the energy it needs, this petal is often accomplished in any number of the way. Homeowners can install photovoltaic systems, solar thermal collectors, or geothermal heat pumps. This petal is additionally an excellent opportunity for neighborhoods to the team, and thru efficiencies of scale harness wind generation, a technology that will not be suited to the single-family home.

How does one confirm enough energy is often generated for your home’s needs? The calculation requires balancing the possible output of renewable systems (photovoltaics are suffering from what proportion sun you get, for instance), with the planning (or retrofit) of a highly efficient home. like water use, energy use is essentially impacted by both behavioral modifications (unplugging appliances when not in use) and efficiency upgrades (choosing appliances that are highly energy efficient).

Is sound impossible? If you think that you would possibly not have enough sunlight to power your home, do the maths anyway — you would possibly be surprised. The Bullitt Center, a six-story office block in Seattle (a place not known for its sunshine) manages to power itself using only the solar power it collects from its roof.

Health and Happiness

The aim of this petal is to deal with the weather that has the most important impact on our enjoyment of buildings. First, in living buildings, all regularly occupied spaces must have access to fresh air, daylight, and operable windows. Second, a healthy interior environment and good air quality are required. The air quality requirement includes testing nine months after occupancy to make sure that furniture, cleaning products, and fabric choices aren’t affecting the air quality negatively.

The health and happiness petal also asks projects to include biophilic design elements that address our innate got to connect with natural systems in our surroundings


The requirements of the materials petal aim to deal with the health, social responsibility, and embodied energy issues that lie behind our material choices.

One major impediment to accomplishing the goals of this petal is that a lot of building materials lack basic transparency. it's difficult for consumers to form choices about the “green” attributes of products without
understanding a variety of third-party certification programs. additionally, researching the health effects of building materials may be a full-time job.

Due to these transparency issues, the Living Future Institute came up with its own “ingredient label” for building materials through its Declare program. The Declare database provides resources for consumers who want to find out about potential hazards in their building materials, and it's growing a day. Manufacturers must list whether their products clear the Living Building Challenge Red List, which incorporates 22 chemicals or materials considered to be among the worst for human health.

The materials petal encourages rigorous waste reduction on construction projects. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2003, 10 million plenty of construction waste, 19 million plenty of demolition waste, and 38 million plenty of renovation waste were generated by the U.S. residential market alone. By asking projects to divert 90 percent of all construction waste overall on projects, the challenge aims to vary the way people check out construction waste.

The materials petal also encourages the utilization of both local and salvaged materials to support local economies and to extend the recycling of building materials.


Echoing the place petal, the equity petal emphasizes building human-scale buildings that provide Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant accessibility and universal access to nature.

The equity petal challenges some traditional views about personal property. To enable universal access to nature, a living building must consider its neighbors and, for instance, be built to a height that also allows for a neighbor’s access to sunlight. Living buildings also agree to not expose a neighbor to pollution or noxious emissions or to limit public access to natural waterways.

Major organizations involved during a living building project also are encouraged to supply transparency around their business practices and social justice and equity policies.


The Living Building Challenge admits that mandating beauty is an impossible task. And yet it believes that good design and graceful construction are essential elements of making places we love and need to preserve. A building isn’t really sustainable, after all, if we don’t feel compelled to take care of it for the enjoyment of future generations.
To get at this question of beauty, the building must incorporate design elements that exist purely for human delight, integrating culture and therefore the spirit of place through artistic expression.

The building must also incorporate educational opportunities for others to find out about its technology and operations. Projects are required to take care of an academic website and to a minimum of once, a year have an open day for the general public. Many projects into account have also shared resources, including materials lists and lessons learned from the regulatory hurdles they faced. The goal is to still inspire others to vary the way we build, and to form it easier for a subsequent project to realize living building status.