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LEED on Steroids: The Living Building Challenge by Construction Reporter

Industry: Commerical Building

Albuquerque architecture firm pursues Living Building Challenge (LBC) for eco-resorts in Vietnam and U.S.A. LBC requires net zero water/energy use & prohibits plastics.

Albuquerque, NM (PRUnderground) June 26th, 2014

The Living Building Challenge is kind of like the LEED program on green steroids. It is the most aggressive certification program that has ANY real chance of being achieved.  There are only a handful of projects that have been certified,” says Beierle., principle at edi, an Albuquerque firm seeking LBC designation on eco-resort projects in California and Vietnam

Launched in 2006, LBC designation has only been awarded to a handful of projects across the globe.

The most aggressive thing in my mind is the materials aspect of their credit system. They have a materials red list that limits the playing field of materials to a very small palette,” Beierle continues. This limits use of any plastic products—even recycled—for products.

Also, the distance requirement for LBC products is more rigorous and nuanced as it focuses on the raw materials for the product, rather than the final product.  It also takes into account weight, and density.

“For example, let’s say you want to buy metal roofing panels. You can buy it in Albuquerque because it’s manufactured here.  But the billet steel that made the coil that the roof panel is composed of went across the ocean a few times before it evolved from raw material into painted coil stock ready for roof panel manufacture. These guys [ILF] draw a line in the sand and say we’re going to look at the product at the level of the material itself,” says Beierle.

Net Zero Water use is required on each LBC project, which sets it aside from LEED, which focuses more heavily on energy use.

“Across the board the water element is one of the most important factors in a sustainable design concept, in my opinion,” continues Beierle.  “It also severely limits the capacity to do these projects in arid environments because if you can’t capture enough water and you can’t recycle it, there’s no way you can actually function.”

Siting is also more challenging in LBC projects.  Eligible property must never have been farmed, and every project must be sited on land that has been previously developed.  Additionally, designers/developers must allocate land offsite equivalent to your project as habitat, in trade for the land being developed.

There is additionally a food component to the LBC designation, where each project is required to produce food onsite.  The rating levels are referred to as “petals” and in addition to the energy, water, site, and materials petals there is a beauty petal that takes into account the aesthetics of the design.

Edi’s eligible projects include an eco-resort in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, and an eco-health spa in a small town outside of Palm Springs, California.   The California project, sited in an area receiving six inches of rain per year yet possessing geothermal waters, will recycle and purify all bathing waters as well as capturing rainwater to provide for all the water needs of eco-spa clients.

“At the outset, I told our client: ‘if you want to make a statement, green is not enough.  If you want to make a statement, you need to go extreme!’” says Beierle.  “I am aiming for 100% closed loop water independence and in the process avoid conventional mechanical cooling.  What could be more extreme than a project that does not need supplemental water and does not require any conventional air conditioning in an environment that commonly gets up to 120 degrees?”

Designed in partnership with the local community, the Vietnam project integrates inland aquaculture, kinetic, biomimicry-inspired “lotus huts” that move in response to the environment to capture rain, create shade, funnel breezes, and collapse around the buildings to shield the structures from storms.

Larger villas have been designed to utilize repurposed timber as well as local materials.

“The project incorporates nearly everything edi has learned and practiced since our inception.  We consolidate rainwater capture into evaporative pools and support vegetation throughout the site.  After addressing heat, we’ve conceptualized an interdependent system for the infrastructure of waste systems, water systems, and new agricultural zones to prevent flooding,” says Beierle.

“We’re going to capture all the waste on site and make energy out of it using methane biodigestors. The generation of methane will then be available as a cooking fuel, so the locals can get off charcoal, which means they can stop cutting down the forest, which means we can regrow the forest so we can reestablish the wildlife back there and create natural shade both of which have not existed on site for decades. This project so far is off the charts with this kind of stuff.”

This article is brought to you by Construction Reporter.  Check out the full interview with renderings on the project here.

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