A Living Building?

1232151139-green_fuzzy_houseFrom Scientific American:

Over the past couple of decades, architects and builders looking to green their projects turned to the addition of various piecemeal elements to save water here or cut down on electricity there. Those who added more than a few green touches could apply for and get certified by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) under its Leadership in Energy and Efficient Design (LEED) program. While these efforts have been laudable—essentially launching the green building industry as we know it today—they represent merely the infancy of what green building might someday become.

The concept of the “living building” has now emerged as a new ideal for design and construction. The Cascadia Region Green Building Council (CRGBC)—the Pacific Northwest chapter of the USGBC—defines a living building as a structure that “generates all of its own energy with renewable nontoxic resources, captures and treats all of its water, and operates efficiently and for maximum beauty.” The group has been pushing for adoption of the concept by construction industries here at home, and also helped to launch the International Living Building Institute to promote the concept internationally.

“We view our role as the organization that is meant to ask the really tough questions, to push the boundaries as far as possible,” says Jason McLennan, CEO of CRGBC. To this end, in 2006 the group launched its Living Building Challenge (LBC), a “call to the design and construction community to pursue true sustainability in the built environment.” So far 60 different projects around North America are vying to meet the high standards of the LBC, which exceed even the highest status of LEED certification.

The first building to be completed for consideration under the LBC program is the Omega Center for Sustainable Living, in Rhinebeck, NY. The 6,200 square-foot, one-level building, which serves as headquarters for the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, features a geothermal heating and cooling system, solar panels, rain gardens that direct water run-off to irrigate plantings, a 4,500-square-foot greenhouse that helps filter wastewater for reuse, “daylighting” design that brings natural light indoor to minimize electric light usage, and eco-friendly building materials all around. It was designed—per LBC criteria—to be “net-zero,” meaning it uses no more energy than it generates itself. Once the building has been in operation for a full year next summer, CRGBC will audit it to see if its performance lives up to the green hype. Dozens of other LBC contenders around North America will be audited, as well.

Of course, the costs of creating a living building today are very high. Achieving net-zero can be especially costly, and stands out as one of the biggest obstacles to greater interest in the living building concept. Another challenge is finding materials that meet LBC standards, since many common building materials—such as PVC piping for wastewater transport—off-gas chemicals and have other hazardous attributes. LBC also expects builders to source locally as many materials as possible to boost local economies and make efficient use of nearby natural resources. McLennan remains confident that costs will come down as green materials, technologies, and methods become more commonplace within the general building industry.

About the Author

11 Responses to A Living Building?

  1. As the last sentence explains, the more the practice is adopted, the more viable economically it becomes. The key for the green/sustainable movement, again, seems to be in keeping everything as close to home as possible. The future is literally here. Here as in space, not time. This is why I have come to believe that if people find meaning in their immediate physical environment, i.e., if people return to a more realistic lifestyle of relating to neighbors, local community, etc., and within this mutually shared physical environment manage to generate happiness, then there will be naturally a return to a more gentle treatment of the planet. Wherever you live right now, think of your immediate neighbor next door. Would you be willing to share a few hours weekly with him/her/them? Yeah, there will have to be a collective return to wisdom…

  2. Modern American civilization is pathetically abusive of the environment and greedy to live a higher standard of living than the planet can sustain for any reasonable duration. All around us we see people living lavishly in palatial opulence as if we live on a heavenly planet with an unlimited supply of natural resources.

    Originally, the Krishna consciousness movement was about living together communally and moving towards agrarian villages and self-sufficiency. Most all that got stymied in the break-down of the movement that occurred after the passing of Srila Prabhupada.

    Even though the greater movement is now splintered into so many sects and camps, the devotees of the world need to understand how vital it is that the devotees of the KC movement come together in local and regional settlements for constructing a model of society that can show the greatness of Vaishnava civilization as an example to the world.

    Around our Alachua, Florida area there is said to be over a thousand devotees living in the area mostly all making their livelihoods in the secular society because the KC movement has failed to develop rural agrarian settlements that can accommodate and employ Vaishnavas.

    This is indeed one of the great failures of the KC movement that happened as a result of splintering of the KC movement and the moving of Srila Prabhupada to the perimeter. Now, the society he started has floundered due to mismanagement and personal ambition on the part of the leadership.

    However, outside the framework of such a defunct institution, the devotees of the KC movement need to continue on Srila Prabhupada’s vision of agrarian, self-sufficient communities that employ basic Varnasrama principles, which of course requires a King.

    Who will be King?
    It’s a lousy job but somebody has to do it, so I volunteer for the job.
    Well, I don’t have the money to be King, but there are some wealthy Vaishnavas out there that might be able to establish their own kingdom. All they need is a brahminical council to authorize and ordain them and then they can all rule their kingdoms under the rule of the Monarch Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

    See, it’s not all that difficult.

    The GBC authority lost all validity at the passing of Srila Prabhupada.

    • KB Prabhu,
      If you want to see society pathetically abusive of the environment you should go to India, or just about any other developing country. The environment is US is in excellent shape – I work in that field every day and I see how it is done. It takes money and human awareness to protect the environment and they are both present in this country. Of course plenty of things need further improvement, such as efficient energy use, recycling, and so forth.

      The way I see it, our movement failed to live up to the promises of ‘simple living’ because WE – individual devotees – failed in that capacity. Of course the problems with leadership and splintering did not help, but the primary reason is that WE failed. WE devotees do not want to work hard and live a simple life – I see it in myself, I see it in just about any devotee I have met over the years. And those who truly DO want to live a simple life and are not afraid of hard work – they already live such a life, regardless of what ‘the leaders’ do or say. I know such devotees as well and I support them as much as I can.

      We have to quit waiting for our ‘leaders’ to show us the way. We have to become the leaders. I know that you are definitely a leadership material… all you have to do is… lead by example… and I do feel the same responsibility on my shoulders as well.

  3. If ‘green’ buildings end up being extremely expensive, are they really ‘green’ (as in environmentally responsible, not green as the color of money)? How much environment needs to be destroyed so that you can afford to build such an expensive house? Since the economic activity usually happens to involve damage to the environment, the cost of the building corresponds to such damage. These expensive buildings are about as green as Al Gore and other prominent pseudo-environmentalists, whose personal carbon footprint is the size of Rhode Island. The most environmentally responsible practical house is a simple log cabin – where the biggest element of cost is your own labor. If anyone wants to build such a cabin nearby, I offer to donate trees from my private forest. I made Anyway, the offer still stands.

  4. Varnashram? It is the nuclear plant of the Krishna Consciousness Movement. It has been more damaging to this religion than all the politics and intrigue put together. The planet will be safe and sound before varnashram is even considered by sensible people of the world. The Hare Krishna movement’s best bet is to tag itself along with the green movement. People can relate to a realistic plan for better communities. But please don’t bring up social discrimination, misogyny, racism, etc., in short, don’t mention varnashram.

  5. Here are Syamasundara and Gaurasundara harvesting our mung dhal crop at Madhuvan (Costa Rica). At the moment we are harvesting about 10kgs twice a week. We live on about 150 very remote mountain jungle acres, where we produce all of our food (grains, vegetable, fruit, milk, sugar, etc.). At present we are developing the monastery, retreat center, and guest cabin, and house parcels. We are powered by micro hydro and solar power. It’s a great life style.

    We will be installing Krsna Balarama deites this weekend! Stop by some time.

    • Excellent program, Maharaja… I have heard a lot about it from didi Braja-sundari. It sounds like a project with a very bright future.

    • An agrarian Vaishnava settlement in Costa Rica is about the most attractive idea I can think of. Long before Maharaja got involved in the project I had surmised that Costa Rica would be the best place to establish such a settlement in the Western Hemisphere.

      Self-sufficient agrarian Vaishnava communities should be established in favorable climates like found in Costa Rica.
      Hellish cold climates are no place to develop these agrarian Vaishnava settlements.

      Unfortunately, internal strife and political struggle has deprived the movement of great progress in this area. It is really encouraging to see that Tripurari Maharaja has got his priorities in order and moving ahead with such projects as this.

  6. This is a great article but I think it would be good to keep in mind that net-zero buildings are nothing new. Indigenous cultures have been doing it for millenia; more recently we see examples of cobb houses with thatch roofs built in the 1500s still standing today (in perfect shape, with people living in them)all over Britain. Building such a structure requires relatively few types of resources and lots(!) of labor, which in the more communal societal structures of the past was just part of life–everyone in a village helped to build the neighbor’s house, or the whole tribe was involved in building the longhouse.

    Nowadays the net zero idea is novel only because in recent history due to a huge glut of cheap energy (fossil fuels) shamefully wasteful building practices became the norm. People became estranged from the land and lives of labor and along the way lost the skills to build their own homes (among many other essential skills). Cheap materials made possible by fossil fuels made badly sited, poorly designed, highly inefficient boxes that require continuous, huge energy inputs to heat and cool seem like a good idea. Technology became endemic and people forgot how to live without it. Net zero now (especially in the West) means something very different than it used to because we’re so used to our creature comforts we can’t fathom the idea of a “house” without all the bells and whistles that industrial society affords. We need expensive technology and gadgets to make our home “green.” Meanwhile in other parts of the world people are still living comfortably in mud huts.

    Unfortunately much of the technology involved in many net-zero projects is not net zero itself. Solar (photovoltaic) components (panels, inverters, batteries, wire, etc.), for example, take rather large amounts of energy to make and are expensive to replace. Also, they may not emit greenhouse gasses at the point of use, but how much pollution took place to make them?

    Of course none of this means that I’m against solar electricity or technology per se, just that the technology has a long way to go if it is to be incorporated into truly sustainable buildings.

  7. One of the pioneers architects of the green movement, William McDonough, actually met with Srila Prabhupada once due to having a devotee brother. In 2004 McDonough co-authored From Cradle to Cradle, an interesting book where he along with a fellow scientist present the concept of commodities which are not only environmentally non impacting, but also add positively to the environment. Their idea is that if a thing is not to generate benefits for the existing environment, it shouldn’t absolutely be manufactured.

    See a bit more here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑