Home Feature The Entrepreneurial Spirit Inside Georgia’s First Living Building

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Inside Georgia’s First Living Building

by Maija Ehlinger

The original intention of this article was simple: Understand the technology underpinning Georgia’s first ‘Living Building.’

The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design, located on Georgia Tech’s main campus, certainly is a technological feat. But constructing 47,000 square feet of programmable space that moves beyond sustainability to focus on regenerative design needs more than just a few architectural tricks.

It requires building an entrepreneurial environment from the ground up.


Bringing A Building To Life

It only takes a few minutes walking around the atrium to see that the Kendeda Building defines ‘environment’ differently than most collegiate buildings.

The line between the built environment and the natural world on this section of Ferst Drive is purposefully hard to define. Students and community members are greeted by an accessible common area that opens onto Georgia Tech’s growing EcoCommons, a greenspace mimicking the natural piedmont ecosystem that has been paved over the years. Inside the building, the looming support timbers and intricate wood ceiling blend the concepts of what is indoors and what is out.

Photo Credit The Kendeda Building, Attribution: Gregg Willett

Directly off the west side of the building, a photovoltaic (PV) canopy (created by more than 900 solar panels) continues to blend indoor and outdoors spaces by creating a ‘micro climate’ and patio for studying and gathering.

We met Shan Arora, the Kendeda Building’s Director, a few days after the building earned the title of the Southeast’s first regenerative, ‘Living Building’ by the International Living Future Institute.  It meets the rigorous “net positive” performance requirements for energy and water. From a construction standpoint, it means the building took in more materials out of a landfill than it put in. Beyond sustainability, it works to promote health, happiness, equity, and beauty within the design and for those around the building.

For Arora, it’s about building with the future in mind. “Contractors and builders typically think of Day One costs, not the cost associated with the life of the building,” Arora said while we sat enjoying the porch created by the PV canopy. The Kendeda Building has strategically built an insurance policy for future water and energy rate increases in the form of a 50,000-gallon cistern for excess rainwater and an energy system that is 60 to 80% more efficient than comparable higher education buildings.

In fact, the building supplied 222% of its own energy needs over the course of 2020.

Southeast-Focused Design

The Kendeda Building may be the first of its kind in the Southeast, but it certainly displays the region’s natural resources and ingenuity.

Slate roof tiles, timber, felled trees, and even leaves are repurposed from across campus, and other salvaged building materials come from North Carolina, central Georgia, and even Atlanta-based film sets.

In true regenerative fashion, the salvaged timber not only creates a more beautiful interior, it also helps store carbon to further help with the building’s net-positive environmental goals.

The upper level of the building has even re-imagined one of the Museum of Design Atlanta’s (MODA) popular ‘Learning From Nature’ exhibits.

For Arora and his team, the physical construction was only one part of the equation to make a ‘Living Building’ work in the state of Georgia. He said the regenerative building had to overcome three unique challenges to work in the Southeast — the actual climate, the economic environment, and the cultural landscape.

The Kendeda Building has overcome all three, and Arora is on a mission to help others in the region build upon Georgia Tech’s work.

“The fact that we can build it here means we can build this anywhere,” he added.

The building’s first year in operation showed it was possible to operate a net-positive energy building despite Atlanta’s heat and humidity. And the fact that it can be done at a lower operating cost than traditional buildings, Arora said, can help get even more stakeholder support.

Inside The Kendeda Building’s atrium

A Lesson In Innovation

There are certainly tech startup success stories that helped bring the Kendeda Building to life. But perhaps those outside of ConstructionTech and PropTech can learn the most from Georgia’s first ‘Living Building.’

Yes, the Kendeda Building fulfills its role as a functional classroom and workspace. But it asks each student and guest a deeper question: What can you build if you build with purpose?

Purposefully-built places can include something big (think turning rainwater into drinking water or bathrooms into composters). Or it can be seemingly small (like putting in slides for kids and kids-at-heart to enjoy a moment of fun). But it stems from thinking about designing, creating, and building in an interdependent way.

By thinking beyond sustainability and into regenerative design, the Kendeda Building focuses on what future energy and water needs might be. But it also thinks about the ways in which physical space can be restorative to students, to campus, and to the wider Southeast community.

And regenerative architecture might just give us a new blueprint for thinking about innovation in our own work.


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Photos provided by The Kendeda Building

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