Miller Hull

The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design

Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA
This radically sustainable building introduces the state of Georgia to its first Living Building Challenge certified project, giving the University, the state, and the entire South a lighthouse, of sorts, illuminating the path towards a more resilient future.
Client Georgia Institute of Technology
Certifications Living Building Challenge Certified; LEED Platinum
Size 47,000 SF
Completion 2019
Video Skanska USA and Georgia Institute of Technology


Living Buildings have been an architectural revelation over the last 15 years. Their ability to give more than they take is a true testament to the progress made by the design industry, and the huge step forward made for the earth and its people. Though for all of their technical advancements, it was assumed Living Buildings could never be built in the hot and humid climate of the South, especially Georgia, where swampy summers typically necessitate the use of high amounts of energy to keep buildings cool. “People thought that a building like Kendeda could work in other places – California. Arizona, maybe. But certainly not Georgia,” says Shan Arora, Director of the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design and a fierce environmental advocate. Mr. Arora was happy to put this misconception to rest with the help of Miller Hull and Lord Aeck Sargent Planning and Design, Inc. (LAS) who not only constructed a net-positive energy and water building, but one that is Living Building Challenge (LBC) certified, the most prestigious of the building energy accreditations and the first and only in the Southeast. The LBC is the world’s most rigorous performance sustainability certification standard for buildings, and a full LBC building requires the inclusion of 20 imperatives, which are divided into seven “petals” or performance areas: Place, Water, Energy, Health + Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty.  The design and construction of The Kendeda Building demonstrates that Living Buildings are possible in even the most challenging climates.

Located in the heart of Atlanta, the Kendeda building represents a tectonic shift, with the potential to precipitate such change that the southern ground might actually move, its people now eager for buildings that are as gentle to the environment as they are to the people that use them.

Embracing the Vision
The Kendeda Building continues a decade of work by the Kendeda Fund – led by founder, Diana Blank – to advance sustainability in Atlanta’s built environment. Dreaming of a healthier Atlanta, the Kendeda Fund is a long-time supporter of the Living Building Challenge and its mission, and hoped that one of the primary outcomes of its new building would be a “positive transformation of the design, engineering, construction and related industries.” Ultimately, the Kendeda Building set a new standard for region, with founder Ms. Blank attesting to that influence: “It is true that one 47,000-square-foot building won’t materially change the environmental and social impact of buildings in the Southeast or even on a single campus. But one building can serve as an impetus for new ways of approaching the world we want to live in.”

In addition to providing financial support for the project, the Kendeda Fund has provided ongoing funding to support programs in the building that engage local Atlanta communities beyond the university. The atrium, lecture hall, roof garden, and multipurpose room will all be made available for community events. Georgia Tech’s mission is to maximize the impact of the building by exposing as many students as possible to the project. Tech students move on to pursue careers at the highest levels around the globe. After learning in a building expressing such a strong position on resiliency and sustainability, they will take those values with them into their future endeavors as leaders in the STEM fields.

Supporting Collaboration
The Kendeda Building hosts a variety of learning spaces to welcome all students and disciplines from campus. Traditional classrooms as well as laboratory space and meeting rooms fill the building. Each space has generous daylighting, operable windows and is free of Red List chemicals. Good indoor environmental quality was the primary driver in the design of these spaces to support learning, while a range of experiential learning opportunities was the catalyst for collaboration and engagement among students.

Supporting collaboration and addressing the climate crisis demands equitable responses.  Following an inclusive design process with members of the campus and larger community, the Kendeda Building exhibits universal design features from prominent ramping and no-step building entries to access to daylighting, views and natural ventilation for all spaces. Human resources improvements like daytime hours for janitorial and maintenance staff ensure these critical employees can interact with students and faculty in the building during daylight hours while providing them access to public lectures and programs held in the building.

Telling the Story
Throughout the Kendeda project, there are opportunities for the building to serve as a teacher, allowing for easy curriculum integration. Energy and water systems are exposed so students can follow the building’s performance and see how their choices influence its operations. There are gathering spaces and laboratories that promote sharing across disciplines. The roof is also a valuable teaching tool with its outdoor laboratory that supports a roof apiary, as well as pollinator and food production gardens. Students have direct access to their areas of study in this rooftop laboratory, and have the ability to interpret and evaluate data in the field.

Landscape also plays an integral role in this project with pollinator gardens, native plants, wildlife habitat and food-producing urban agriculture. The landscape has been designed after the reference habitat of mesic woodland and seepage wetland. There are extensive opportunities for curriculum integration and ecological restoration and students are often seen sampling stormwater or working with the plants.

In addition to helping teach students, the Kendeda Building serves as a model for the southern United States and showing the entire country a successful pathway to net-positive energy and water for college campuses. New buildings and even renovation projects can incorporate the lessons Georgia Tech has learned to achieve the highest level of energy and water performance possible.  These performance benefits save money for academic institutions and support the sustainability values of their student body.

Engaging with Campus
The Kendeda Building is positioned at the most urban corner of the site, preserving the maximum area for a planned new green space. Careful siting allowed the building to be inserted into a grove of mature oak trees to the north. Ground- floor spaces are tiered to seamlessly integrate with the natural slope of the site along a former vehicular street that was vacated as part of the design.

Inspired by the vernacular southern porch, the design reimagines this regionally ubiquitous architectural device, and applies it to fit the civic scale of the campus.

But the General Contractor, Skanska, took engagement beyond just the campus and involved the surrounding community. As an example, the nail-laminated timber decking was panelized off-site and craned into place, while 25,000 linear feet of two-by-four material was salvaged from Atlanta’s Lifecycle Building Center, which sourced the lumber from discarded local film sets. The decking was assembled by apprentices hired through nonprofit Georgia Works!, providing valuable trade skills to individuals facing chronic homelessness. In addition to the structural timber, wood salvaged from trees felled on campus was used for counter tops and furniture.

Continuing more than a decade of work by the Kendeda Fund to advance sustainability in Atlanta’s built environment, the organization has provided ongoing funding to support programs in the building that engage local Atlanta communities beyond the university.

Sustainability and Equity
The Kendeda Building is a multi-disciplinary education building intended to serve as a working model of what is possible with integrated sustainable design that equitably supports sustainability curriculum.

The Regenerative Porch
The Regenerative Porch performs the traditional tasks of creating a cool micro-climate around the building and blurring interior and exterior conditions while providing weather-protected outdoor classroom space. Additionally, the Porch is leveraged to satisfy the rigorous requirements of the Living Building Challenge. The canopy created by 16,800 square feet of photovoltaic panels generates more than 100% of the building’s energy demand and captures enough rainwater to supply 100% of the water used in the building.

Watershed Thinking
All of the water used in The Kendeda Building comes from rainwater captured by the Porch canopy. Treated rainwater is used for drinking fountains, sinks, and showers. The greywater generated from these fixtures is pumped to a constructed wetland at the building’s main entrance. This water then descends via gravity through a series of rain gardens and detention structures aligned with the tiered exterior terraces before infiltrating to the site. Georgia Tech currently incurs a significant expense to discharge stormwater to Atlanta’s over extended sewer system. The Kendeda Building demonstrates available strategies that could be deployed throughout the campus to manage stormwater more intelligently, helping the campus meet its stormwater goals and reduce utility expenses for the whole university.

More wood, Less Carbon
The Kendeda Building is Georgia Tech’s first timber building since its earliest load bearing masonry and timber structures from the 1880s. Climate smart mass timber was selected for its significantly smaller embodied carbon footprint, compared to concrete and steel systems. Glue laminated queen post trusses with steel bottom chords are used to achieve the spans required by the larger spaces in the building where timber alone would be challenging. This hybrid approach reduces the quantity of wood required, while making routing of building services more efficient. The gravity and lateral elements are fully exposed, allowing the building to be a teaching tool and defining the character of the interior environment. Off-cuts from the new lumber were assembled into the seat steps that descend the three tiers of the atrium. In addition to the structural timber, wood salvaged from trees felled on campus was used for counter tops and furniture.A building that will direct every future building in the South, Kendeda is more than a sustainable university building. Rather, it is a tool “that can help steer the conversation about our environment, [and can help] ask, ‘How can we get more of this done here?’” – Shan Arora, Georgia Institute of Technology.

Project Team

Design Architect: The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP
Collaborating Architect & Prime Architect: Lord Aeck Sargent
Contractor: Skanska USA
Landscape Architect: Andropogon
Civil Engineer: Long Engineering
Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing Engineer: PAE and Newcomb & Boyd
Structural Engineer: Uzun & Case
Greywater Systems: Biohabitats

Living Building

2022 Annual Report