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Reusing Construction Materials Is Key to Atlanta Building's Green Dream

The project team behind the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design is going for the gold—or, rather, the green: It’s seeking certification by the Living Building Challenge, the world’s most rigorous green-building standard.

Located on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Kendeda Building features a dozen salvaged materials in its structure and on its grounds, including two-by-fours from dismantled movie sets that were repurposed as panels for floor decks. Reusing construction materials helped the team meet one performance requirement of the Living Building Challenge, but there are 19 more that must be met—not only throughout construction, which was completed in late 2019, but also for a full year afterward. Watch the video to learn more about the Kendeda Building.

[Video Transcript]

Shannon Goodman, Executive Director, Lifecycle Building Center: Every year, we’re throwing away 170 million tons of construction materials. That is essentially the equivalent of filling the Empire State Building 710 times.

Jimmy Mitchell, Sustainability Engineer, Skanska USA: The reason why that’s a problem is because 30% of it is still reusable and salvageable. And we can use that—we can retain that value, extend the lifecycle of those materials. And that lowers the embodied carbon of our natural resources.

Alissa Kingsley, Senior Associate, Lord Aeck Sargent: We know that climate change is a real issue, that the building industry contributes nearly 40% of the carbon emissions in the world, whether it is in the construction process or the building operations. And so it’s time to make a change.

Mitchell: The reason why I think the Living Building Challenge can become the norm is because it’s so easy to understand. The seven petals of the Living Building Challenge are place, energy, water, materials, health and happiness, equity, and beauty.

Michael Floyd, AEC Sustainability Strategy Manager, Autodesk: There’s a natural connection between the ambitions of the Living Building Challenge and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation, Goal 7 on affordable and clean energy, Goal 9 on industry innovation and infrastructure, Goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities, and Goal 12 on sustainable production and consumption.

Kelsey Stein, National Preconstruction Technology Manager, Skanska USA: They’re pretty unique projects, and there aren’t very many of them, so Living Building Challenge is really the next level. It’s one of the most rigorous sustainable-certification programs out there.

Mitchell: There are 20 imperatives. You have to do all 20 to complete the full certification of the Living Building Challenge.

We’re at Lifecycle Building Center, and we’re in a 70,000-square-foot warehouse. It’s an opportunity for people to come and donate their materials and for others to come and purchase those materials and reuse them, repurpose them, and extend their lifecycle.

Goodman: Building material reuse is not a new phenomenon. In fact, we’re actually going back to how we used to remove buildings. But what we are about is showing the missed opportunities that are lost if you don’t see the value of what we already have.

Mitchell: The key with salvage is, if you get it on the way to the landfill, it’s free. At the Kendeda Building, we saved a few $100,000 incorporating salvage materials there. So, this is a sustainability element that does not cost more.

My wife and I are both Georgia Tech alums, and this is a major undertaking. It’s the first in the Southeast, and I just knew that through all my background experiences at Skanska, our team was the right team to implement that at Georgia Tech.

Stein: Having Georgia Tech on board was key. They’re known for their technology; they’re known for pushing boundaries and being innovative.

Mitchell: The human element at the Kendeda Building was incredible. We had an integrated team, and we really approached it that way. We’re doing things along the way where we’re saying, “You know what? That light, it’s not getting in just enough, and the energy consumption is going to be a little bit too high in the future. Let’s rotate our whole auditorium 90 degrees, drop that ceiling height 10 feet, and let’s see what that looks like in four days.” We couldn’t have done that 10 years ago.

Stein: This project probably wouldn’t have been possible without the technology we have available today. There were so many changes and so many back-and-forths with the design team ensuring that we had the right design that was sustainable and that we could keep it in budget.

Mitchell: Cloud-based construction tools are a major factor in our projects now, so one thing is, we want to have estimating feedback really quickly. The design team is working in Revit. We’re working in Assemble. Those get uploaded automatically, and then we can give feedback in hours and days, as opposed to a month.

Stein: We were receiving updated models weekly sometimes and going through multiple design options, and without Assemble, there would’ve been no way to do that in that short amount of time.

Using virtual reality streamlined the change-management process because they were taking a large amount of time to flip through plans and specs and understand the costs associated with those. The owner can make a decision in real time by just walking through and experiencing the space and experiencing those different options.

Kingsley: Technology helps visualize. It helps quantify. It helps sell the idea of sustainability in a way that we haven’t been able to before. The more that we can utilize technology to prove our case, the more likely we’re going to have regenerative buildings.

Mitchell: Lifecycle Building Center had a relationship with the local film industries, and they collected over 25,000 linear feet of salvaged two-by-four. Skanska then nailed those panels together and installed them in the building. That is probably, globally, the best example of salvage that ever happened. The Kendeda Building is a blueprint for the future, and we want others to come see it and share our knowledge.

Floyd: The Kendeda Building is a truly inspiring project, but it’s one example, and sustainability only works if we scale it as an industry.

Goodman: I’m a mother. I have a seven-year-old daughter. I want this planet to thrive.

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