The course of study which Brian recently undertook is Living Future Accreditation, a professional credential that recognizes proficiency in the world’s most ambitious, advanced, and holistic sustainable design standards.

It’s a big thought – a building is not just a mechanical thing, it is a living thing.

There were many “aha!” moment’s for Principal Brian Murphy during his recent learning experience with the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), but the most significant came during a module on biophilic design. “It really became clear that what we’re after is a better understanding of human’s existence within nature,” says Brian. It’s so deeply ingrained in our culture, and our way of being, that there’s humans and then there’s the natural world. “We take care of nature, we use it for our benefit, or perhaps, it’s a battle between us and the forces of nature. But the whole idea of a living building is to change that paradigm, and make buildings part of the natural world and responsive, contributing even, to a thriving natural existence.”

“At a really high level, it’s about learning from patterns in nature that we can see, that we know about, and emulating that in not only the way we build but the way we exist, interact, with the world,” adds Brian before contemplating the reality of these sky-high thoughts with a practical question, “but what does that mean for a wall?” It might be as simple as meaning we make walls in ways that are not destructive to the world around us. We have to understand that those walls will exist forever, in some form. The materials for that wall come from, and go back to, the natural world.

“This may sound super ‘up in the clouds,’ but that’s only because that concept is so foreign to us. And it seems wishy-washy, but it really has to become the basis for how we operate. Most especially when we’re making buildings.”

The course of study which Brian recently undertook is Living Future Accreditation, a professional credential that recognizes proficiency in the world’s most ambitious, advanced, and holistic sustainable design standards. Both the professional credential (LFA), and the Living Building Challenge, a certification for buildings, are administered ILFI and are based on a framework of categories, often depicted as a seven-petaled flower, that help guide the design of buildings that do more good than harm.

“These petals can act as a tool for making decisions, that’s the most useful way our clients will interact with these concepts.” Our clients may choose to pursue a Living Building Challenge certification but even if they don’t, these principles are thought-provoking and practical in equal measure. The petals include the consideration of place, water, energy, materials, health, and then there’s Brian’s favorites, beauty and equity.

“There’s not a hierarchy in this framework,” says Brian, “and that’s one of its greatest components. It all has equal importance and they are connected.” The framework is a reminder that people and places are intrinsically connected as well. “It’s like the community and the place where that building is made, and the places where all of its materials are drawn from, and the natural systems that the building could otherwise disrupt actually connect and contribute to their thriving.”

Materials are really important because they represent industrial processes, which in turn are part of our economies. It’s those economies that affect people and places – both negatively and positively. The Living Future Accreditation is helping Brian, and the team form meaningful questions including; how are raw materials sourced, and how are they formed into the components of a building? What happens with excess? Where do materials go once a building is complete? And materials are just one aspect of the planning, design, documentation, and construction process. Every other system, including water or energy usage, can be looked at through this lens.

For Brian it comes down to the commitments, the ones we make with our clients to provide successful buildings and the ones we make to the environment. “It starts with philosophy as the main work, which becomes an advocacy platform, and its manifestation is better buildings which once built are physical representations of the philosophy. That cyclical nature is about achieving a regenerative state,” says Brian.“I think that’s the beauty, and the crux, of the whole endeavor.”

The work is incremental however; there are successes and challenges. “And some days it feels like we’re not getting there and other days, it feels like we’re making great gains,” adds Brian as he reflects on his work post-accreditation. One of those gains came recently when Brian visited a local public school, as part of the Climate in the Classroom program from NH Sea Grant and UNH Cooperative Extension, to share his work. “It feels great to be taking this knowledge to a seventh grade classroom. You know, it’s just fun. There are complexities to doing this work, so it’s good practice to get a completely different point of view. Young learners, and people at that stage of life, really see the opportunity ahead of them. If we all see the possibilities, that is what will truly help move the construction of better buildings in the right direction.”

International Living Future Institute website

Living Building Challange 4.0 Guide

Living Building Challenge Petals and Imperatives