When hearing the term “Living Building” for the first time, I was reminded of my fourth grade class field trip to Chick-Fil-A Headquarters. We toured the corporate building, marveled at the car collection, including the Batmobile from Batman Returns, and learned about the history of Chick-Fil-A and its famed chicken sandwich, but what I remember most is sitting in the office of the late Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-Fil-A. With its floor-to-ceiling windows, the office was surrounding by trees. This was the coolest office my ten-year-old self had even seen, and I learned that Cathy had dubbed it his “tree house.” Fast forward over nine years and I’m picturing a living building to be a fancy, green building surrounded by trees like Cathy’s “tree house” office. But it isn’t enough that a building has living trees nearby to be a true living building. It has to operate and function like a tree—as a completely self-sustaining unit.

A living building is just as it sounds. It generates all of its own energy, captures and treats its water, and operates cleanly and efficiently in harmony with nature. The Living Building Challenge is a green building certification program launched by the Cascadia Green Building Council, but what does it really mean for a building to be green? Being energy efficient? Using recycled building materials? Collecting rainwater? The Living Building Challenge aims to change the way we think about sustainability and to develop buildings that are not just less bad but truly regenerative. A living building is built to mimic natural processes with the intent of improving the surrounding environment.

A building that achieves Living Certification must meet the performance requirements of seven “Petals” or categories: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty. These Petals are subdivided into a total of twenty imperatives, which must also be met. Once the building has been constructed, Living Certification is awarded based on the actual performance of the building at full capacity (with real people not AI teaching assistants) over a twelve-month period instead of modeled or anticipated performance.

Georgia Tech is partnering with The Kendeda Fund, which has committed $30 million to Tech, to build what is expected to be the most environmentally advanced research and education building in the Southeast. Lord Aeck Sargent and The Miller Hull Partnership have been selected to design the Living Building at Georgia Tech. The Living Building will be incorporated into Georgia Tech’s Eco-Commons, which is a set of green spaces on campus that conserve natural resources such as the Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB) and the surrounding area. (This area will stretch from the corner of 10th and State Street to where GTPD is now). The Living Building at Georgia Tech will serve as a model for the Southeast and other similar environments around the world.