2018 Demonstration Project: Water Petal Review

By Kristen Suzda

Posted October 14, 2018

The Demonstration Project is a hands-on opportunity to establish the feasibility of renovating existing brick masonry rowhouses to the Passive House standard and design infill affordable housing to meet the requirements of the Living Building Challenge (LBC). Using charrettes and workshops to engage with the design community, participants learn about opportunities to rethink how we design and build using above code standards as a guide for future development.  Don't miss the final LBC workshop on Tuesday, October 16th.

On September 13th, volunteers gathered for the Living Building Challenge Water Petal Workshop at Friends Center. Michele Adams of Meliora Design led the discussion on water usage for 11 Living Building Challenge housing units on contiguous vacant lots at 49th and Girard in Philadelphia. Working closely with Community Ventures we have been tackling affordable housing using the typical Philadelphia rowhouse as a model to make a case for creating housing that is both affordable and highly sustainable.

Because designing projects to meet the LBC requires an iterative process where the needs of one petal often affect the design for others, participants already had a working understanding of the requirements that all water - potable, storm, and waste - should be managed on site.  We had anticipated this need during the Place Petal workshop and set aside land to accommodate the needs for the Water Petal.

LBC allows certain exceptions to the Net Positive Water imperative in urban areas, and it was clear that we would need to use these exceptions as a way to manage costs and work within site constraints.  One exception we chose to take was to tie our wastewater utility into the city system. However, we also understood that creating a living machine could have a great impact if the residents could see an alternative way for addressing wastewater.  

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We dove into interconnections between petals, and regulations that govern building in the city and the nation.  One proposal for blue roofs instead of vegetative roof raised questions about the materials of the roof and if they would affect water quality.  People understood the competing uses and needs for the roof between solar, water storage, and stormwater. There was a serious discussion about public safety and (perhaps) a realization that our one-size-fits-all water infrastructure may not necessarily be the only way to ensure safe and sanitary water.  As the infrastructure continues to age and needs serious maintenance, designs like ours can reduce the burden of a growing population while building in resilience.

The conversation turned again to costs. Troy Hannigan and Patrick Isaac of Community Ventures described that there are various funding mechanisms in place to help fund the construction and allow the houses to be sold below market.  They described that there is some flexibility in the budgeting process that may allow for some of the more expensive infrastructure suggested in our proposal, and he also described the funding mechanism they use to fund maintenance of previous affordable housing projects.  While it seems plausible that we could attract an "urban farmer" to care for the urban agriculture requirement and the project’s water infrastructure, the volunteers realized that creating a one-off solution was not the goal of the project. We are looking for a project that is replicable.  Further, there were discussions about the viability of common property. If the solar system, the internal courtyard, and the water infrastructure were all part of the commons, were they also at risk of becoming part of the "tragedy of the commons"? Philosophical discussions aside, we continued having practical discussions about how to create a community where people live with one another, count on each other's community participation, but the individual still has the liberty to act as they see fit.


Our final Demonstration Project workshop of the year will be at the beautiful Bartram's Garden on Tuesday, October, 16th.

At our Unifying Lens Workshop,  we will continue our discussion of the commons, hear inspiring stories, learn about the work of Bartram's Garden to engage their local community, and learn proven strategies for implementing the LBC Petals of Equity, Beauty, and Health & Happiness. This final gathering will celebrate the accomplishments of our team of volunteers this year and look toward the years ahead in building regenerative, resourceful, healthy, net-positive water, net-positive energy rowhouses, and affordable rowhouses.


Want to get involved with the Living Building Challenge Community?  Contact Drew Levine

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