Living Building at Georgia Tech: Proving that Beauty is More than Skin Deep
When it comes to high performance buildings, the subject of beauty can easily become a forgotten part of the conversation. In designing the Living Building at Georgia Tech, the architect team of The Miller Hull Partnership and Lord Aeck Sargent recognized that sustainability is not limited to the preservation and conservation of natural resources, but rather incorporates many factors including the aesthetic quality of the built environment.
The intent of the Living Building Challenge’s Beauty Petal, which is one of seven stringent performance criteria, is to ensure that care is exercised in creating places and spaces that are inspirational and enjoyable to all. The Beauty Petal requires design features that are intended solely for human delight, including opportunities for public art. It also requires the building to include educational opportunities for regular occupants as well as visitors.
Below are examples of how beauty is being incorporated during the design development phase into the overall programming and design for the Living Building at Georgia Tech.
The integration of public art has been a part of the design process for the Living Building at Georgia Tech from the very beginning—especially by highlighting pieces representative of the Living Building Challenge’s sustainability goals that celebrate biophilia and the surrounding community.
Stair and Atrium
The circulation through the site and the building is essentially the connective tissue of discovery that links the Living Building at Georgia Tech with the adjacent Eco-Commons. The two-story central atrium (pictured below) is the heart of the building. The wide, open volume draws people in and through the building. It delivers daylight to the interior of the building while also serving as flexible circulation and program space. Gracious proportions with oversized landings provide places to pause and take in views of the central atrium space where select building systems are on display.
Simple, straightforward methods of construction emphasizing a material’s palette primarily found in nature are being explored. The palette will be regionally appropriate, low carbon, durable, nontoxic, and cost-effective. Limiting the use of high carbon materials such as steel and concrete to only where they are most needed will help minimize environmental impact.
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified and/or salvaged wood sourced from the Southeast are preferred for their beauty, durability, and regional relevance,without needing significant additional materials or coatings for finishing. Exterior facing material options being evaluated include brick, rammed earth, and Georgia granite.
Regional Design Influence
The porch typology has come to define the vernacular architecture of the Southeast. A porch is a transitional space allowing connection between the built and natural environments and between the building occupants and the community. The porch of the Living Building at Georgia Tech will wrap the façade to create welcoming, covered open spaces that give access to the south, west, and north. It will blur the line between inside and out while passively mitigating the climate.
The west porch (pictured below) will step with grade, linking the building directly to the landscape and constructed wetlands and serving as the primary orientation to the site. The building will also step with the site along the western edge, integrating the pedestrian experience with the building. The north porch will foster a strong connection to the outdoor spaces beneath the canopy of the Great Oak and pecan trees.
The substantial west porch roof overhang will not only provide critical western solar gain protection in addition to what the grove of trees will provide, but it will also offer an ample array of sheltered outdoor spaces that blur the line between indoors and the outdoors.
Georgia Tech’s campus is located in the heart of Midtown Atlanta, and as a public institution, Georgia Tech intends to leverage this facility to serve the greater community. Many of the building’s features, including the porch as well as interior spaces such as the makerspace, auditorium, and classrooms, — will be available for educational programming. There will also be a concierge desk where visitors can gather for building tours and learn about the unique systems that enable the building to meet all of the Living Building Challenge requirements.
To successfully accomplish the educational imperatives, Georgia Tech is researching and developing community outreach and educational programming for this building. As the project moves forward, an operations and maintenance manual will be developed. Georgia Tech will also feature additional content on its Living Buildings website to educate the public about this fully functional and enjoyable education space.
About the Authors
Alissa Kingsley, LEED AP, is a Project Architect at Lord Aeck Sargent in Atlanta. Margaret Sprug, AIA, is Principal with The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP, Seattle.