A Living-Learning Laboratory

The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta is one of the most environmentally advanced educational and research facility of its kind in the Southeast. Georgia Tech received a grant from the Atlanta-based The Kendeda Fund, which empowers communities across the U.S. and around the globe to develop solutions that increase equity, vibrancy, resourcefulness and resilience, to design and build a Living Building on campus to help educate the next generation of sustainable design leaders. The school held a design competition leading to the fully integrated collaboration between The Miller Hull Partnership, Seattle, and Lord Aeck Sargent, Atlanta.

Georgia Tech’s new facility is set to be the first Living Building Challenge certified building in the Southeast

By Marcy Marro

Photo: Jonathan Hillyer

With approximately 47,000 square feet of programmable space, the Kendeda Institute features nearly 37,000 square feet that is enclosed and conditioned. Additionally, there is a public outdoor learning space that includes a 2,618-square-foot outdoor porch area, and a 1,000-square-foot accessible roof deck. There is also a private, 4,347-square-foot rooftop garden with a honeybee apiary, pollinator garden and blueberry orchard. The remaining 1,905 square feet of space is for loading and bike storage.

The project was completed in 2019, and is aiming for LEED Platinum certification, as well as being Living Building Challenge certified from the International Living Future Institute. Set up for education, research and outreach opportunities, the building features two, 64-person classrooms, two, 24-person class labs, two, 16-person class labs, a 16-person conference room, makerspace, a 176-person auditorium, and office space for co-located programs.

Photo: Justin Chan Photography

A Living Building

To achieve Living Building certification, the project needs to achieve rigorous performance requirements, known as petals. After 12 months of consecutive performance, which began in January 2020, the project will be certified in 2021 under the Living Building Challenge 3.1, making it the 25th certified Living Building on the planet, and the first in the Southeast.

The Living Building Challenge presents a variety of challenges to design teams, including not using any products with materials on the Red List. “Bringing Red List and LBC sourcing requirements to the manufacturers, suppliers and subcontractors of the Southeast U.S. was something new,” says Brian Court, AIA, partner at Miller Hull. “We overcame a learning curve with many of these groups and worked to find a variety of compliant products that reduced toxicity, were produced locally and keep embodied carbon impact in consideration.”

In addition to the solar array, the project incorporates salvaged materials. It also includes a 50,000-gallon cistern, on-site energy storage, condenser water heat recovery, rainwater reclamation for potable uses, compositing toilets and urban agriculture. The building will also use the campus chilled water loop as its heat source in the winter via a heat recovery chiller, and will have radiant flooring to distribute the heating and cooling efficiently. Additionally, air curtains at the doorways act as a barrier to outside air coming in.

Photo: Miller Hull

Reinterpreting the Front Porch

Heat and humidity is one of the biggest design challenges in Atlanta, and as Court says, gave the inspiration for the large roof canopy to shade the building. Supported by structural steel columns and beams, the canopy roof overhangs the west façade creating a modern reinterpretation of the traditional front porch. “While we needed to generate power on-site, we also needed to reduce the loads in the building, and provide good people spaces,” he explains. “The whole concept for this building was really inspired by the porch that’s so ubiquitous in the Southeast. Almost every building, every house, has a front porch. People tend to congregate there and hangout there, and it becomes an important part of the social fabric of the building. This porch marks the entries to the building and serves as the primary gathering space for students and faculty.”

The canopy shades most of the building throughout the course of the day, significantly reducing the building’s cooling loads. The roof is made up of the photovoltaic panels that produce 120% of the energy the building requires. The 330 kW solar array is made up of 917 panels covering 16,109 square feet, and will generate 455,000 kWh annually. The projected energy use intensity (EUI) for the building is 30 kBTU/SF/YR, which is 72% more efficient than the average building of the same size and occupancy. Designed to generate 42 EUI, the solar array will offset the buildings EUI, generating a net-positive energy facility.

The roof canopy also has gutters that collect all of the rainwater that falls on the photovoltaic panels and brings it back to a 50,000-gallon cistern in the basement, where it provides all of the water the building needs.

“The canopy is where the steel really excels in the project,” Court says. “We wanted to celebrate the inherent strength of steel with the columns that are supporting that photovoltaic array. And columns are such a critical element in architecture, and architectural expression, especially for civic buildings. That really gave us an opportunity to celebrate steel and to try and make the columns as light as possible.”

To accomplish this, the designers used tensile cables held off the central column with spars to counteract the buckling tendencies at mid-span. This allowed the central support member to be significantly thinner, saving material. “It gave us a chance to create an additional layer of structure out there, and celebrate steel’s potential with lightness and the height that’s possible. And once that language developed, then we were able to bring that inside the building too, and in all of the interior photographs, you’ll see these queen post trusses, a hybrid timber and steel structural solution.”

Photo: Jonathan Hillyer

A Hybrid Building Solution

The Kendeda building is a hybrid of concrete, steel and mass timber. Inside, steel is the tension rod and the queen posts, while on the exterior, where the designers had to be cognizant of corrosion and moisture, it’s an all-steel structural system. Concrete was required for the base of the building where there were moisture and earth issues, and then inside the building, timber with its carbon sequestration benefits, is used to support the gravity loads. The lateral systems and long-span conditions require structural steel. And, on the exterior of the building, unfinished mill-run aluminum siding from Morin Corp., a Kingspan Group company, Bristol, Conn., is used both in box section horizontal orientation and flat panel vertical orientation.

“The concrete gets us out of the ground providing all foundations and retaining walls,” Court explains. “The slabs inside the building are concrete as well with hydronic piping to deliver heating and cooling while providing thermal mass.”

The mass timber handles all of the above-grade gravity loads within the building. Glu-laminated columns and beams form the frame and nail-laminated decks consisting of salvaged 2-inch by 4-inch pieces alternating with new Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified 2-inch by 6-inch pieces, which form all of the floor and ceiling decks.

“We found a nice language of using each material where it really excels, and it makes sense,” Court says. “I think that’s probably our biggest lesson moving forward, when we look at buildings now, we have to consider the carbon footprint increasingly, and that’s pointing toward more of an integration of concrete, steel and timber.”

Photo: Jonathan Hillyer

Building of the Future

The Kendeda Building is designed to serve as a teaching and learning tool. At Georgia Tech, Court notes they’re educating the next generation of electrical engineers, mechanical, structural, etc., through a tech-focused curriculum. “The vision was to have a building of the future where all of these disciplines are headed, and the donors and the university feel that the living building embodies a lot of that leading-edge direction.”

As such, the building is going to serve as part of the school’s curriculum as a living laboratory for all of the different disciplines on campus to use as a resource. Allowing the different colleges and departments learn in the building and work with the systems will also help monitor the building and how it performs over time. Therefore, if corrections are needed, the commissioning will be ongoing, and these departments can perform that task with the university. “Hopefully the building will inspire students and faculty and will continue to live and give back, and be part of the conversation at Georgia Tech,” Court says.

According to Court, one of the main takeaways from this project is that a living building is possible for any location and any building type. “We need to be designing and building Living Buildings everywhere to meet our climate goals and do so in an equitable way.”