Atlanta poised to help Tech construct super-environmentally friendly building

By David Pendered

Atlanta is entering the final stage of its role in helping Georgia Tech build what Tech bills as, “the most environmentally advanced education and research building ever constructed in the Southeast.” The city intends to sell an acre of land for the site of Tech’s planned Living Building.

living building, georgia tech

The Living Building at Georgia Tech is to include features such as exterior blinds to shade the building, toilets that send waste to be composted in the basement, and enough solar panels to produce more electricity than the building consumes. Credit: The Miller Hull Partnership in collaboration with Lord Aeck Sargent, via

Tech’s overarching proposal to boost its green footprint – endorsed so far by Atlanta – calls for the city to abandon the acre and be paid fair market value for the parcels. In 2015, Atlanta abandoned portions of State Street and Atlantic Drive to Tech to facilitate construction of Eco Commons, a water retention system flanked by pathways.

Tech’s planned Living Building could represent the future of eco-designs for buildings. It tosses LEED certifications out the window and replaces them with even stricter certifications that are based on mimicking biological principles and processes. Livable Buildings are required to be:

  • “[S]elf-sufficient for energy and water for a full year and meet standards for the materials used and the indoor environment. … The standard also requires that the building helps restore the natural environment.”

The notion of the Living Building is the brainchild of a national coordinator of the first Earth Day, in 1970. Denis Hayes now serves as president of the Bullitt Foundation, which in 2013 opened the Bullitt Center in Seattle. It’s said to be one of the greenest buildings in the world.

Tech’s leadership team decided to join the Living Building effort. The Kendeda Fund threw its support behind the project, providing in 2015 a grant of $30 million.

Georgia Tech campus plan

Georgia Tech intends to build the Livable Building next to Eco Commons, a water retention area that is to provide pathways for pedestrian and bicycles. Credit: Georgia Tech/David Pendered

This was the Kendeda Fund’s largest single grant in history, according to a statement from Tech. The money is to provide $25 million for design and construction costs, and $5 million to support programming activities.

But for all this to happen, Georgia Tech needs a site for the building. A logical spot is a tract adjacent to, and south of, the Georgia Tech Research Institute, located at 400 10th St.

However, the site is crimped by three Atlanta city streets. They include a portion of Eighth Street, which appears to have been closed to vehicular traffic but evidently is still under city ownership; Daley Street; and Greenfield Street.

The exact parameters of the proposed abandonment include:

  • Dalney Street – 0.64 acres;
  • Eighth Street – 0.232 acres;
  • Greenfield Street – 0.226 acres.

The Transportation Committee of the Atlanta City Council has scheduled a public hearing to gather comment. The meeting is set to start Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. at Atlanta City Hall.

Tech plans to start construction in October, according to the project’s timeline. The schematic design was approved in December 2016 and the project is now in its development phase.

The architectural team Tech selected includes Lord Aeck Sargent and The Miller Hull Partnership. Miller Hull was the lead architect on the Bullitt Center.

living building, profile, georgia tech

Georgia Tech intends to start construction on the Living Building in October. Architects have focused on combining form and function in the facility. Credit: The Miller Hull Partnership in collaboration with Lord Aeck Sargent, via

The description of the center’s features reads more like those of a spaceship than a building. Some examples include waterless toilets; composting toilets; regenerative elevator; greywater treatment; and exterior blinds.

The exterior blinds seem to be an important component of the design.

“For instance, the schematic design proposes automated venetian blinds on the east façade of the building, which will reduce heat gain by shading when its needed and opening up to provide daylight when needed — all with minimal energy requirements from the building’s photovoltaic panels,” Joshua Gassman, lead project manager for Lord Aeck Sargent, said in a statement released in February.

Even as architects reach for these objectives, the building has to be functional. Tech observes that form and function can occupy the same space if designed properly:

  • “Programmatically, the schematic design promotes flexible space with purpose. Plans include an auditorium that seats 170 people for educational purposes and events. The building will also feature two 75-person classrooms and an open collaboration area — complete with makerspace — adjacent to the the soon-to-be developed Eco-Commons. While the upper rooftop will contain a 260 kW (approximately) photovoltaic array to harness the sun’s energy, a lower occupiable roof will feature a rooftop garden complete with honeybee apiary and pollinator garden.”


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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