Martin Brown from Fairsnape explains how the Living Building Challenge is a holistic standard that benefits health and the environment.
Interview with Martin Brown
Martin has been working in the construction industry since the 1970s, initially in site engineering and project management, before moving into business improvement. Since 2000 he has been working as a business improvement and sustainability consultant, with the job title of Sustainability Provocateur.
He helped bring the Living Building Challenge to the UK
Around 11 years ago, Martin came across the International Living Future Institute, based in Seattle, who were having the kinds of discussions around sustainability that he had an interest in. He and a few friends pledged to bring their Living Building Challenge (LBC) to the UK, so formed the UK Living Building Challenge Collaborative, hosted by Leeds Beckett University.
It takes a lot of its messages from nature
Martin felt that 10 years or so ago sustainability was getting a little stale, and tended to be focused on energy and waste. The Living Building Challenge however had a different, regenerative, way of thinking: about doing more good than just striving to reduce impact.
It uses flowers as a metaphor and has seven elements, or ‘petals' as they're known by, to describe a regenerative building:
- Place – how a building is aligned to its place, such as where it exists in terms of bioclimatic and ground conditions
- Energy – with the requirement for a building to generate 105% of its own energy on a net energy basis without using any combustion
- Water – the building should be independent, taking only what it needs and cleaning what it puts back into the ground – much like how a tree would function
- Health & Happiness – having a civilised, healthy, just environment
- Materials – ensuring no toxic materials go into the building
- Equity – seeking for buildings and those working on them to be ‘just' in their approach
- Beauty and Spirit – the concept of biophilia, inspiring and educating the next project and the next generation.
There are quantifiable elements that can be monitored
There is a requirement to complete 12 months of continuous post-occupancy monitoring. This can check on the quantifiable elements such as demonstrating that the building is generating more energy than it uses by 105%, and that it is meeting its responsible approach to water.
Despite the rigorous elements of the standard, there is no saying how they must be achieved. Instead, it enables teams to come up with their own innovative approaches and solutions.
It uses biophilic design
Biophilia is based on the theories that we have an innate love of nature, and the more we shut ourselves away from it the more detrimental it is for our physical, mental and social health. Biophilic design is a way of bringing nature back into buildings, not just with plants and greenery but also in terms of wind and light.
That discussion is now moving towards how to make it not only beneficial for us as humans, but also for nature in terms of conservation, rewilding and improving our local environments.
Biophilia is something that Martin thinks should be more widely adopted.
“Not just going through the elements of biophilia but getting people into that right mindset when you start to design. Not necessarily bringing all the baggage from other buildings which haven’t worked so well. Just taking a fresh approach of, how can we get this build more related to the local environment and in doing so improve the health of the occupants.”
The red list identifies things that should not be used in the building
The list originated from the Institute of Living Futures but is now also used by many other standards, such as the WELL building standard.
It incorporates 21 products, elements and chemicals that have an impact on our health and should not be used in a building, whether that impact is in the production or extraction of the material, in the manufacture of the product, or in its installation through the building process and then through the life of the building.
Martin says that it's important to be pedantic about what gets used in the building, which can also lead to interesting debates and innovative thinking about what alternatives there could be.
The Cuerden Valley Visitor Centre is the first UK LBC project
Opened in 2018, the Cuerden Valley Visitor Centre has increased footfall in the park by around fourfold.
Barbara Jones' Straw Works team worked with the trust and specialist consultants to meet the Living Building Challenge imperatives.
The building is based on Barbara's innovative approach not to use any cement or concrete. Instead, the foundations are made from discarded rubber tyres, there is a timber frame construction and a strawbale wall infill.
The roof was constructed first to make a dry interior space on which to construct the strawbale walls. Once they were in place, the roof was lowered onto the walls to make a semi load bearing strawbale construction. A lime render was then applied to the walls.
The building will be zero waste on demolition
In terms of the circular economy, when the building reaches its end of life Martin says that around 50% of the materials are natural and could be composted, if they couldn't be reused. The remainder are very modular components that could be reused on other projects.
The declare labels provides helpful product information
In terms of planning future projects, Martin thinks it's important to remember to question the health aspects of materials that are being put into buildings. He says it can be easy to just use things that are readily available, but one of the LBC guiding remits on materials is known as the precautionary principle. That means that if there's any issue of impact on health then the precautionary route should be taken and that material should not necessarily be used.
The LBC's declare label is a way of helping to understand the impact of a product. It doesn't specify whether something is good or bad, but just gives the information and guidance about where the product comes from, what it is made from, and where it goes at the end of its life.
Meeting the RIBA Sustainable outcomes
The RIBA has set out its 2020 plan of work for sustainable outcomes, with a challenge for the targets to be met by 2030. When comparing the current building standards, Martin says that the Living Building Challenge is the one that best meets their criteria.
“I veer away from making that direct comparison between all of the standards because they’re all different for different purposes. But I think the Living Building Challenge and its associated programmes really is the regenerative solution for addressing the climate and ecological emergency that we’ve all made declarations on.”
Find out more
Visit the website of Fairsnape
Follow Martin Brown on Twitter
Find out more on the Living Building Challenge in UK and Europe
Find out more about the ILFI's Living Building Challenge
Check out the RIBA's Sustainable Outcomes Guide
Read about Terrapin Bright Green's 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design
Listen to our podcast with Straw Work's Barbara Jones
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