M+A Architects


What is Living Building Challenge?

  • NOVEMBER 20, 2015
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In June 2015, Cincinnati became one of the first cities to offer tax incentives to encourage Living Building Challenge projects. One of the newest sustainable measures in building design, Living Building Challenge is an international certification developed in 2006 by the non-profit, International Living Future Institute. 'The Challenge,' as it is often referred to, is described by the Institute as a philosophy, advocacy tool and certification program that promotes the most advanced measurement of sustainability in the built environment.

There are three types of certification available to projects: Living Building Certification, Petal Certification or Net Zero Energy Building Certification. All three types utilize the seven performance categories, or petals, shown below.Living Building Challenge

Similar to the LEED process, a team will provide poignant project details at the time of registration, such as typology (renovation, infrastructure & landscape, building, or community) and transect (rural agricultural zone, village or campus zone, general urban zone, urban center zone, or urban core zone). Project team members will also join the Living Building Challenge Community and have access to online support and documentation resources.

Following registration, the project team can begin the documentation process. Documentation is continued through the project’s construction phase and its operational phase (12 consecutive months of operation), during which project performance data is recorded. Following completion of the operational phase the team may submit data for an audit, the size of which will vary on the project size and scope.

Once the auditor report is reviewed by the Institute, the project is certified and awarded accordingly. The Challenge offers several awards and certifications, including the Living Building Challenge Award and the Net Zero Energy Building Award.

Living Building ChallengeThe Living Building Challenge Award is presented to projects that achieve full certification or petal recognition. It signifies that the building was not only constructed using sustainable practices but also demonstrates a progressive movement towards a more sustainable future. In Cincinnati, there’s not only prestige, but also monetary incentives to achieve certification. The new city ordinance identifies that both new construction and renovation projects pursuing the full or petal certification can receive 100% tax abatement.

One of the most unique features of the Living Building Challenge award is its function and placement. Unlike other plaques or wall-mounted certificates, this award functions as a door handle and serving as a tactile reminder experienced by each person entering the building. However, projects obtaining this award will also receive the Living Building Challenge Certificate, a more traditional form of recognition.


The second type of award available is the Net Zero Energy Building Award, which is presented to projects achieving the Net Zero Energy Building Certification under the Living Building Challenge program. Net Zero (also known as Zero-Energy) is a concept that refers to a building with no net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on site. Net Zero EnergyA prime (and local) example of a Net Zero project is the City of Columbus Indian Village Lodge. While designing this project occupant behaviors, as well as various heating/cooling options, are being thoroughly investigated to help achieve Net Zero status. Construction is expected to begin August 2016.

The award for these projects features a metal plate etched with a branch-like pattern and includes the project information etched on a pane of glass.

The main difference between the Living Building Challenge and its predecessor, LEED, is its commitment to a more holistic approach of sustainable building and design.  It will be interesting to see what else the future of green building has in store for architecture and design!

M+A Architects