News Brief

Petal Certifications Help the Living Building Challenge Jump in Scale

With recent and upcoming certifications, the Living Building Challenge breaks out of its boutique building typology.

Living Building Challenge Certified Buildings

Living Building Challenge Certified Buildings

All 15 certified Living Buildings and all 22 petal certified buildings, as of June 2017, arrayed by date of certification and size.

Chart credit: BuildingGreen, with data from ILFI chart
The stereotype of a Living Building has been an environmental education classroom or visitor center that’s not much bigger than the average American house. That stereotype wasn’t too far off during the program’s first five years—until the 10,700 ft2 Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes and the 50,800 ft2 Bullitt Center were certified in March 2015, the average certified project was 3,700 ft2 (see chart).

The Bullitt Center remains an outlier among Living Buildings—in the early days of the Living Building Challenge the perceived risk of pursuing such an aggressive goal was just too much for most owners and developers of larger projects. No certified project since the Bullitt Center has exceeded 20,000 ft2, and it might not have a peer until the 42,000 ft2 Living Building at Georgia Tech is certified around March 2020.

In the meantime, however, petal certifications are expanding, and extending to much larger corporate facilities. Petal certification under the Living Building Challenge involves achieving all of the imperatives under the Place and Beauty petals, along with one of these three petals: Energy, Water, or Materials. Just this year two enormous commercial interiors projects achieved Petal certification via the Materials Petal: Etsy’s Brooklyn headquarters and Google’s Chicago office. Both of these are around 200,000 ft2: almost twenty times larger than the average size of all previously certified projects.

Microsoft’s Mountain View, California campus.

This rendering shows the design for the expansion and renovation of Microsoft’s Mountain View, California, campus. The project is seeking Water Petal certification through the Living Building Challenge.

Rendering: Steelblue
As if to prove that these are not flukes, ILFI announced in May 2017 that Microsoft intends to pursue Petal certification with a focus on the Water Petal for its 640,000 ft2 Silicon Valley campus in Mountain View, California. This combination of existing buildings and new construction will include office space, labs, and conference facilities, with integrated food services and other amenities.

The project is anticipating a 55% reduction in water use, even though the gross floor area is growing by 40%, the landscaped area by 300%, and the population by more than 50%, according to Katie Ross, sustainability program manager for Microsoft Real Estate & Facilities. The water savings amount to 3.9 million gallons per year, nearly enough to fill six Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The focus on water and ecosystems is especially motivating to Pauline Souza, AIA, principal at WRNS Studio, design architects for the project. The project team includes ecologists to guide restoration of wildlife habitat in an adjacent creek, and hydrologists to design stormwater infiltration to mitigate the intrusion of saline water from the San Francisco Bay into the area’s groundwater. “What a great opportunity to showcase both innovative and tried-and-true technologies that save water without sacrificing beauty, productivity, growth, and user experience,” exclaims Souza.

It will be a few years before the Microsoft campus can submit for certification, but the idea that a Living Building should not be much bigger than a house is already outdated. These large project examples will help put the Living Building option on the table for many teams that might not have otherwise considered it, and raise the bar for the entire industry.

More on Living Building certification

How to Succeed with the Living Building Challenge: 12 Teams Share Tips

For more information:

International Living Future Institute

Published August 2, 2017

Malin, N. (2017, August 2). Petal Certifications Help the Living Building Challenge Jump in Scale. Retrieved from

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