A Look Behind Constructing the Most Sustainable Building in the Southeast

A Look Behind Constructing the Most Sustainable Building in the Southeast - jimmy mitchell

The Living Building Challenge — an international building certification program that promotes advanced sustainability in construction — isn't called a "challenge" for nothing. 

It has the most rigorous sustainability standards. To be certified, buildings must meet all advanced sustainability measures in seven categories: place, water, energy, health, happiness, materials, equity, and beauty. Unlike Leadership and Energy Environmental Design (LEED), the Living Building Challenge is less about the building’s performance and more about the overall environmental impact of the facility. Certification is only given after one full year of continuous occupancy when the facility has proven it has achieved net positive energy, net positive water, and net positive waste. 

Needless to say, it's no easy feat. 

That's why we're excited to spotlight the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design, a 36,978-square-feet education and research facility that's striving for full certification from the Living Building Challenge. 

Recognized by Metro Atlanta as one of the most innovative projects in the Southeast, the Kendeda Building is a net-positive sustainable urban structure with a green roof, a solar panel canopy, cisterns for rainwater collection and reuse, and integrated plantings around the site to provide food for students throughout the year.

We recently caught up with Jimmy Mitchell, the Sustainability Engineer at Skanska USA, who worked on the project. Mitchell will be presenting at Autodesk University, where he will take the virtual stage for a session titled The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design

Register for AU 2020 to learn how the team overcame the project's challenges and discover how collaboration and technology helped Mitchell and his team in all phases of construction — from preconstruction to turnover.

Ahead of the session, we chatted with Mitchell and asked him to walk us through his experience in sustainable construction and what people can expect to learn from his session. 

Building a Passion for Construction Sustainability

Mitchell has been passionately involved in construction sustainability long before the Kendeda project. 

He didn't grow up in a household of engineers, but he was good at math and science, so his parents encouraged him to pursue the field. He went to Georgia Tech and initially took up chemical engineering, but eventually gravitated towards civil. 

"Civil engineering is a very social type of engineering. We do it because of people, transit, and travel. We can't build without the community; I liked that, it kind of fits my attention span and my level of engagement," he says. 

It was also at Georgia Tech — around his fourth year — when he started to learn about sustainability. 

"I took this class where we thought about progress. At that time, I was learning about sustainability and construction. I decided that one of my long-term personal objectives is to bring progress to sustainability in the construction industry. That's where it started."

Taking Sustainability to the Next Level at Skanska

Skanska, says Mitchell, was an excellent fit for that objective. 

"Skanska is this global company that's value-based. And those values are very well aligned with sustainability. So whenever I was doing crazy things, instead of being rejected, it was accepted, and they would show me to other crazy people and other offices who had similar interests."

During his early years at Skanska, Mitchell expressed his views on LEED, which led to him being one of the first LEED managers in Georgia.

Part of his work involved thinking about the next step in construction sustainability, and it was also around this time that he learned about Autodesk tools. 

"Skanska let me transfer for six months to a medical office building and outpatient center project out in the Bay Area, and that project team used Revit. That's when I really began doing construction management with technology tools like Autodesk products.

When I came back to Atlanta, I brought back what I learned from a construction management perspective," he recalls. 

Mitchell then embarked on a number of sustainability projects from there, including building one of the first urban gardens in Atlanta. He also co-founded the Lifecycle Building Center (LBC), a non-profit center that promotes material reuse. 

Achieving Sustainability Through Collaboration

One of the highlights of Mitchell's work around construction sustainability is the Kendeda Building — which, as mentioned earlier, had to meet a high bar in terms of sustainability. It was an ambitious project with plenty of moving parts. 

Mitchell and his team were able to stay on top of everything thanks to their strong collaborative practices, particularly during the preconstruction phase. They held weekly live estimations and used Assemble to update and share models, as well as compare design options, provide scope and track budget changes. 

They also sent Georgia Tech variance reports on what changed, where the changes occurred, and how much it changed. Typically, this process can take days – even weeks – when costs are not easily available to aid decision making. 

The project’s highly collaborative approach allowed all stakeholders to be on the same page and tackle issues together — which ultimately led to successfully completing the most sustainable building in the Southeast.

"Skanska was always there at the design meetings. And when the contractor is making any decisions, the architect and the design team are right there with us. There were probably thousands of sustainable design and construction challenges we had to solve, and we worked well together. I'm most proud of the fact that we got through it together."

The Role of Technology in Achieving Sustainability 

Technology was one of the key components behind the team's effective collaboration. They used Autodesk software to provide updates as well as to track costs and changes in real-time. These tools also helped them navigate unexpected challenges quickly and efficiently. 

"Autodesk definitely helped team members be more collaborative," says Mitchell. 

"With the Kendeda Building, we were building a wood structure in the hot, humid Southeast, and we were striving to achieve all these global objectives. When we were making every decision, there was a desire to think about each option."

He continued, "We got down into the weeds and made decisions based on the real criteria and results that would come through. And so, Autodesk tools allowed us to quickly analyze these complex parametric problems and actually achieve a much better analysis."

According to Mitchell, Autodesk made it easy to see the implications and impacts that a decision would have on the project. 

"To me, it was immensely valuable to be able to go, 'Oh, if we rotated this auditorium 90 degrees, how would that impact the 20 imperatives in the budget?' Without Autodesk, you couldn't do that. You couldn't look and see what it impacts or quickly figure out the quantity changes and the costs of those changes."

For example, when they had to relocate two classrooms and lower the ceiling of the auditorium, Mitchell and his team used Revit and Assemble to rapidly price and model the evolving designs. 

Furthermore, technology also played a critical role in collaboration during the construction phase, where they used BIM 360 to facilitate communications. These tools allowed subcontractors to access the latest information generated from the office.  

Skanska also captured project progress photos and videos using drones. They leveraged Autodesk Recap Photo to process drone photos and create interactive 3D point cloud and mesh models to share site conditions for days in the schedule.

During the turnover phase, Skanska delivered a COBie-formatted construction asset database, as per the requirements of Georgia Tech. This was a structured collection of commissioning data pulled from BIM 360 Field, warranties, as-built drawings/models, and construction submittals, containing product data, photos, etc. 

This well-organized database enabled facility managers to be ready for operations from day one.

It's All About Sustainability

When asked about the key takeaways from his upcoming session, Mitchell said it all comes down to sustainability and making use of tools and resources we already have. 

"You've got the tools at your hand to do real depth analysis with these objectives. So, use them to your advantage." 

The bottom line, he says, is we have everything at our fingertips to make an impact and a difference. 

Don't miss your chance to hear from Mitchell firsthand and learn about the Southeast's most sustainable building. Register for Autodesk University 2020 and catch his session — and many others — all free. The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design will also be featured in a must-watch documentary premiering at Autodesk University. Don’t miss out - register today!

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.