Living Building Challenge

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is an ambitious certification program that pushes the boundaries of sustainable design. It emphasises regenerative practices and requires buildings to generate their own energy, harvest water and promote biodiversity.  
This year at DJCoalition we embarked on our first LBC project; we will create an innovative lighting system that provides a harmonious balance of optimal illumination, aesthetic appeal and enhancement of the inhabitants’ well-being. By incorporating biophilic design principles, we aim to establish a profound connection between occupants and the natural world. Abundant natural light, indoor greenery and views of nature will nurture a sense of tranquility; boosting productivity, creativity and overall well-being.  

DJCoalition embraces the challenge to set higher standards in sustainable lighting design and to create beautiful buildings that contribute to our wellbeing. To begin the process we recently visited Wollongong University’s Sustainable Buildings Research Centre. This building was the first Australian Building completed under the vision of the “Living Building Challenge” (LBC) sustainable development guidelines. It has been operating 10 years and remains the most sustainable building in Australia.

Interesting Facts
The building has been in operation for 10 year and is still to date the most sustainable building in Australia.
The LBC building consists of one office/study space + two residential buildings.
The building bricks are 10 years old and have been reused from other university buildings. Having had many lives, the bricks have many different looks – some exposed, some semi-covered with paint or render – which made them perfect for feature walls while helping comply with the LBC standard.

The SBRC building has built-in intelligence that preheats or cools spaces based on weather predictions.
The building utilises a water system with pipes buried 30 meters deep in the soil so that water can travel down from places with high/low surface temperatures to moderate via contact with deep soil to 19 degrees. This water is then pumped up to be used for cooling/heating, utilising much lesser energy to achieve a pleasant temperature.
The building utilised a low emission concrete (apparently not common in such applications), while working effectively to reduce overall CO2 emissions.
Green walls are utilised to reduce CO2 levels in internal spaces, this reduction in CO2 not only facilitates compliance but increases alertness (higher levels of CO2 make you sleepy).
Double glazed windows isolate internal spaces with over 6 degrees difference versus single glassing, further reducing need for cooling and heating.
A key to reducing energy consumption is to make spaces isolated (airtight) as well as insulated. SBRC did a test of a house with standard construction versus an LBC airtight sustainable house using an air extractor to suck air through the façade to maintain air refreshing. They found the standard house would replace the whole air in the house 30 times per hour versus 1-2 times for the LBC house.
Dark colours attract heat quicker in summer and release heat quicker when temperatures drop. So, consideration of light colours over dark colours for roofing materials offers thermal benefits.
In some of the residences they designed a secondary facade/shade structure to provide protection from hot summers. It’s a simple concrete wall with some round wholes (for aesthetics and assembly) which reduces the external temperature by 17 degrees internally.
Solar power was harvested to power the building.
Wind power collected on site was not considered, mainly due to concerns of extreme noise and the effect to bird migration.

Lessons Learnt
The air tightness of the house also trapped humidity which resulted in issues of mould growth. Rates of air circulation needed to be increased to prevent this. DJCoalition also notes that lighting with a targeted wavelength can also inhibit mould growth.
Noting the benefits of isolated airtightness, SBRC determined that when a space is isolated a CO2 monitor is required to ensure safety.


Another issue they found is that the overall control systems for lighting, shades, temperature, etc, was so interconnected that when something failed, everything failed. Backup systems needed to be considered at a fix. DJCoalition notes that designing a simple control system that can be isolated into parts is a more robust solution.
The public areas that have operable windows to allow increased air circulation had problems causing air quality problems in springtime with pollen and polluted air when bushfires were nearby.
They have found a small amount of water is able to travel through the Low Emission Concrete material creating discoloration of the material.

I hope you have found this thought provoking for your projects. DJCoalition are connected to the SBRC Director, Tim McCarthy, who is very happy to help with any questions these notes may have raised. We would be happy to make an introduction for you to facilitate your greater understanding. You can read our LBC handout here. 

1: Living Building Challenge V4.0

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