RECAP: LBC Demonstration Project

By Amy Cornelius

Posted September 13, 2019


The Living Building challenge Infill Affordable Housing Demonstration Project


The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is a building certification program, advocacy tool, and philosophy that defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today. The Living Future Community of Green Building United facilitates LBC educational events designed to teach and collaboratively learn from others in the design and construction industry.

In early 2018, the Community developed the idea of the Infill Affordable Housing Demonstration Project (DP), pairing a living project and real client to foster fun, hands-on learning about the LBC Petal Imperatives while garnering practical knowledge about how to achieve certification. Between April 2018 and July 2019, the DP brought together individuals and organizations to collaborate and envision an affordable housing development that was healthful, environmentally sustainable, and beautiful.

With our sponsor and potential developer, Community Ventures, we discovered that: 

  • Aspiring to full LBC standards in a dense, urban environment like Philadelphia poses challenges and opportunities
  • By focusing advocacy efforts on improving shared and centralized infrastructure systems, such a project may be feasible and has the potential to not only provide an inspiring living environment for future residents, but to positively affect the quality of life for all Philadelphians

By the Numbers

10 Public Charrettes

90+ Organizations 

200+ Attendees 

2000+ Volunteer Hours 

20180404 185759

The Process

While the DP mimicked a comprehensive design process, it was important to introduce and examine the details of the imperatives by working through the LBC Petals in a linear manner, as many volunteers had never worked on an LBC project before. To develop the project in a more holistic manner, we used the Petal requirements for Beauty, Health & Happiness, and Equity as a unifying lens. By keeping these imperatives in the forefront of our discussions, we anticipated issues and design edits that would likely be necessary if a team progressed through the challenge in a linear manner. Applying this unifying lens during each workshop infused a more holistic approach throughout conversations and design development.

The Outcome

At the final Lessons Learned Workshop, we unveiled the group’s design solution to the challenge of achieving an LBC affordable housing development.

During the course of the DP, a Regulatory Roadblock document was created that identified specific obstacles to certification achievement, and: 

  • Provided strategies to overcome these obstacles
  • Pointed to possible advocacy collaborators
  • Highlighted case study examples of successful strategies.


This living document is accessible to the entire Green Building United community so it can grow and change, be used as a reference tool, and guide LBC advocacy efforts.

The idea of raising the health and welfare of the entire City of Philadelphia by connecting LBC affordable housing development to centralized and community-based systems is compelling and moves the standard from benefit-of-the-few to benefit-of-the-many.

View the Regulatory Roadblocks Document

Next Steps

Five key actions are needed to overcome roadblocks to achieve LBC Certification and scale up the use of it in framing affordable housing projects:

  • Advocate for the development of consistent, reliable financing sources and incentives specifically for affordable housing projects and generally for high performance building projects. 

  • Advocate for a balanced solution to water use that complements the City’s centralized supply and treatment infrastructure while working with the International Living Future Institute to create a "carve-out" for dense, urban environment projects. 

  • Advocate for community solar in Pennsylvania and the extension of the Federal ITC for solar to reduce first costs and broaden the project’s access to sun by scale jumping.

  • Advocate for an open source materials and product database of existing Red List-free products, and for a PHFA points system incentive for the use of safer materials and phased legislation to label/ban chemicals on the Red List.

  • Advocate for market transformation from a closed loop system to net positive waste and circular economy.

The Living Future Community has launched into these next steps by touring the Philadelphia Water Department’s NE sewage treatment plant and its contracted Synagro composting facility. Next the Community plans to pit that learning against the LBC criteria to identify ways to improve. Using the power of education and advocacy, the Community hopes to change the may be feasible to is feasible and then to take that is and scale it up to benefit all. 

If interested in getting involved in the discussion/implementation of next steps, please contact Amy Cornelius.

synagro sludge dewatering facility

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