Liv­ing build­ings

A new gen­er­a­tion of think­ing about our built en­vi­ron­ment is re­sult­ing in build­ings that more re­sem­ble a liv­ing or­gan­ism.

Element - - Business - By Jerome Part­ing­ton

Our sur­round­ings today, the cities and build­ings we in­habit and the roads, power, wa­ter, food and waste in­fras­truc­ture were all built in a ‘brief’ pe­riod of cheap en­ergy and labour. Our en­vi­ron­ments are fixes to the ‘prob­lem’ of con­tin­u­ous growth. As a re­sult they are ex­pen­sive to main­tain and op­er­ate be­cause they are waste­ful and pol­lut­ing. They are not renowned for their beauty, but were cheap and in­tended to be re­placed ev­ery few years or decades. Con­se­quently our ex­ist­ing built en­vi­ron­ment does more harm than good for our econ­omy, planet and so­ci­ety.

As an al­ter­na­tive per­haps vi­su­alise a flower. Rooted in place, and yet it har­vests all its wa­ter, en­ergy and nu­tri­ents. Is adapted to cli­mate and site to op­er­ate pol­lu­tion free. The flower is com­prised of in­te­grated nat­u­ral sys­tems – and it’s beau­ti­ful.

Imag­ine go­ing to work, or shop­ping or study­ing in build­ings that mimic the flower to gen­er­ate their own en­ergy and wa­ter; where all hab­it­able space is filled with day­light and has opening

‘Liv­ing’ build­ings are not about do­ing ‘less harm’. They start with the ques­tion – ‘what does good look like?’

win­dows! They would grow food and in­vite na­ture to in­habit their walls and roofs. Imag­ine telling your chil­dren that your place of work is min­imis­ing cli­mate change be­cause it stores car­bon diox­ide emis­sions! A build­ing so healthy you feel re­freshed af­ter a hard day at work! A tall order, but ab­so­lutely pos­si­ble. To help un­der­stand our fu­ture op­tions and vi­sion­ary ap­proaches to cre­at­ing them, my col­league Justin Evatt and I re­cently vis­ited the US and Canada, tour­ing build­ings that demon­strate pos­i­tive and re­gen­er­a­tive be­hav­iour, aim­ing to give back more than they take.

The build­ings were de­signed and built to meet the strin­gent stan­dards of ‘The Liv­ing Build­ing Chal­lenge’, a pro­gram of Cas­ca­dia Green Build­ing Coun­cil in­tended to cre­ate tan­gi­ble ex­am­ples of the liv­ing fu­ture.

‘Liv­ing’ build­ings are not about do­ing ‘less harm’. They start with the ques­tion – ‘what does good look like?’ and then use na­ture as a mea­sur­ing stick of success in de­liv­er­ing it.

The CIRS (Cen­tre for In­ter­ac­tive Re­search in Sus­tain­abil­ity) at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Colom­bia is one of many lead­ing edge ex­am­ples. Aside from the forty doc­tor­ate stu­dents en­gaged in study, it of­fers seven net pos­i­tive ben­e­fits for peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment. CIRS takes waste en­ergy for use be­fore re-ex­port­ing it, like­wise it cap­tures waste wa­ter be­fore re­turn­ing it for agri­cul­ture and to the aquifer af­ter treat­ment in their plant-based liv­ing ma­chine.

In Van­cou­ver the Van Dusen Gar­dens vis­i­tor cen­tre is a pow­er­ful de­sign, based on a flow­er­ing or­chid ap­pro­pri­ate to a botan­i­cal gar­den in full spring bloom. The un­du­lat­ing forms fin­ished with liv­ing plant roofs and so­lar col­lec­tor cre­ate a de­light­fully high ar­rival lobby. This high dome ceil­ing tops out with a glass cone to drive the nat­u­ral fresh air sys­tem and day­light­ing. The Vis­i­tor Cen­tre is tar­get­ing ‘net zero’ for en­ergy and wa­ter by col­lect­ing and stor­ing it in the ground. Like CIRS, it treats its own sewage al­low­ing the wa­ter and nu­tri­ents to be re­cy­cled.

In a sim­i­lar vein the Early Learn­ing Cen­tre for chil­dren at SFU Univer­sity was built to meet the chal­lenge on a tight pro­gram and with a con­ven­tional bud­get. Like Van Dusen, it too fol­lowed the ma­te­ri­als ‘Red List’ for avoid­ing any toxic ma­te­ri­als and pro­vid­ing as­sur­ance that they were sourced from ap­pro­pri­ate dis­tances and fully ac­counted for their ‘em­bod­ied’ car­bon.

The Bullit Cen­tre in Seat­tle, an of­fice block now un­der con­struc­tion, took the wa­ter ar­gu­ment fur­ther. There is lit­tle space to treat waste wa­ter on site, so the build­ing in­cor­po­rates six storeys of com­post­ing toi­lets, thus elim­i­nat­ing both the need for wa­ter and avoid­ing the treat­ment prob­lem.

The Liv­ing Build­ing Chal­lenge is just that, a chal­lenge to us. It asks the ques­tion, ‘What if ev­ery sin­gle act of de­sign and con­struc­tion make the world a bet­ter place?’ In­stead of short term think­ing and in­vest­ment cre­at­ing more waste, pol­lu­tion and stress, it sets a stan­dard to de­liver a fu­ture of net pos­i­tive out­comes. The Liv­ing Build­ing Chal­lenge al­lows us to be smart, to in­no­vate and cre­ate cities and build­ings that that are not only go­ing to give back for a long time, but are so­cially just, cul­tur­ally rich and eco­log­i­cally restora­tive.

Above and top left: Van Dusen Gar­dens Vis­i­tors Cen­tre, an or­chid-in­spired build­ing with a sewage treat­ment pond in fore­ground

Cen­tre for In­ter­ac­tive Re­search on Sus­tain­abil­ity at UBC Van­cou­ver – so­lar

en­ergy atrium roof sup­ported by the tim­ber struc­ture to se­quester car­bon.

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