Festivus for the Rest-of-Us: What Can We All Learn from Living Building Challenge Strategies

Joshua Gassman, Lord Aeck Sargent

One can view building performance, energy efficiency and water efficiency through many lenses. Together these views create a spectrum or ranking of performance by which such efficiency is frequently judged. At one end of this spectrum there are merely code compliant buildings (buildings that if they performed any worse would be "illegal"), and at the other end of the spectrum are regenerative buildings that pay back the resources they used to be built over their lifespan, or faster. All buildings fall in this spectrum; ones that range from LEED aspirational, to AIA 2030 Compliant, to LEED Platinum, to Net Zero Energy (NZE). Most of the third party systems are steadily looking to improve the performance of the baseline as well, including the USGBC, ASHRAE and others.

The Living Building Challenge Project at Georgia Tech is at one end of this spectrum - a project that has net positive energy, water and waste as well as Living Building Challenge 3.1 Certification as mandated project goals. It is a 40,000 gsf project made up of teaching labs, student commons and classrooms. In the mindset of Georgia Tech's Quality Enhancement Plan, Serve Learn Sustain, the Living Building Project at Georgia Tech will demonstrate the most advanced measures of sustainability possible in the current built environment. The success of the Living Building Project at Georgia Tech is not limited to one building. Instead, to succeed is to ensure the project is replicable in terms of cost, materials, and technologies across campus and throughout the US. This project will not only be a learning facility, but a facility to learn from. The project is currently in design and is expected to start construction in late 2017.

This presentation will look at the spectrum of project performance from similar building types and identify what strategies from the Living Building Project are common on other projects. We will then review how and to what extreme they have been implemented on this project as well as discuss the improved performance we are expecting from pushing strategies to the limit. Examples of strategies explored will likely include:

  • Separation of latent and sensible loads from each other and from ventilation loads
  • Expansion of the comfort zone
  • Daylighting
  • Water budgeting

We propose that this presentation is part of an on-going series that tracks the progress of the project, including construction and post-occupancy metering and tracking to demonstrate the success (or lack thereof) for the strategies.

Learning Objectives

  • Learning Objective 1: Participants will be able to understand how to evaluate the use of energy in buildings and what strategies may be available to reduce that use.
  • Learning Objective 2: Participants will learn about measurement tools for accessing building energy performance and water use during design and after occupancy.
  • Learning Objective 3: Participants will gain an understanding of the energy use and water use in laboratories and understand the strategies available to Owners and Design teams to help make buildings more efficient.
  • Learning Objective 4: Participants will learn how the early design and programming process can impact overall energy use and be able to select strategies for reducing it.


For more than 15 years Joshua has lead large, multi-faceted design teams focused on sustainable design. During his career he has managed a broad spectrum of projects, ranging from large research labs for major universities to interpretive and education centers. He has worked extensively on projects involving challenging sustainable criteria, including net positive water and net positive energy projects. He holds degrees from Washington University in St. Louis and Arizona State University.


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