New buildings, renovations, landscape and infrastructure projects.
The Living Building Challenge consists of seven performance categories, or ‘petals’. These are in turn subdivided into a total of 20 Imperatives, each of which focuses on a specific sphere of influence. All 20 Imperatives are required for new buildings, 16 for renovations, and 17 for landscape and infrastructure projects.
Two core rules apply in the Living Building Challenge: firstly, all Imperatives are mandatory. Secondly, Living Building Challenge certification is based on actual, rather than anticipated, performance. Therefore, projects must be operational for at least one year prior to evaluation in order to verify compliance.
Indoor air quality and ventilation
The Living Building Challenge requires all regularly occupied spaces to have operable windows that let in daylight and fresh air. Furthermore, Living Buildings must achieve ventilation rates compliant with the ASHRAE 62 standard. Only materials and products that have been tested for VOC emissions may be installed in interior spaces.
A ‘red list’ bans, among others, bisphenol A (BPA), cadmium, chloroprene, added formaldehydes, halogenated flame retardants, phthalates and PVC from the building materials. Kitchens, bathrooms and janitorial areas are to be equipped with dedicated exhaust systems.
Daylight is addressed qualitatively, rather than quantitatively, in the Living Building Challenge. This is done through the requirement for operable windows and through the ‘Biophilic Environment’ imperative. The latter requires project teams to set up a biophilic framework and plan for the project that includes the incorporation of environmental features, natural light and natural shapes.
Aesthetics and contact to nature
Beauty and the connection to the natural environment are key issues in the Living Building Challenge. Amongst other things, the biophilic plan has to ensure that the building provides sufficient and frequent human-nature interactions, both in the interior and exterior spaces.
The ‘Beauty and Spirit’ imperative requires design teams to “meaningfully integrate public art and contain design features intended solely for human delight and the celebration of culture.”
Building operation and evaluation
Projects have to be operational for at least twelve consecutive months before a certification is possible. 12 of the 20 imperatives can be verified after construction through a preliminary audit. In the other eight imperatives, which include Health & Happiness, performance is verified after the first year of operation and based on quantitative data.
Both before the users move in and nine months after full occupancy, the indoor air quality is tested for particulate matter, VOCs, formaldehyde and other common pollutants. Basic comfort parameters such as temperature, humidity and CO₂ levels are also permanently monitored. Smoking is banned from all Living Buildings and the building management has to set up a cleaning protocol that uses cleaning products compliant with the EPA Design for the Environment label.
In-use monitoring even extends to the ‘Beauty & Inspiration’ petal: in the first year of occupancy, a survey of at least 10% of the building users is carried out to evaluate whether the project lives up to the claims of the designers in terms of beauty.