Georgia Tech structure certified as 'living building'

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Air conditioning mechanic Dexter Harper talks about his experience at Georgia Tech's Kendeda Building on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, in Atlanta. The $25 million structure has been certified as a living building, meaning it helps the environment more than it hurts it. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

ATLANTA – It's not too often that tours of new buildings start with the toilets. But they're a big part of a different kind of building in Atlanta.

And so, Shan Arora, who oversees Georgia Tech's Kendeda Building, troops visitors pretty quickly to a ground floor bathroom where the toilet begins to hum, and then foam. There's no conventional flushing, with the toilets consuming only a teaspoon of water per use. And the waste is composted in digesters in the basement instead of being piped to a treatment plant.

“We say there’s a lot of potty talk in the Kendeda Building,” Arora said.

Georgia Tech is announcing on Thursday — Earth Day — that the building has won certification as the 28th “living building” worldwide. That means the building has proved over a year of operation that it meets the standards of the International Living Future Institute that it does more good for the natural environment than harm.

“Sustainability gets us to a point where we’re not doing as much damage as we are,” Arora said. “But we’ve already done so much damage that we have to get to a point where we’re regenerative or restorative.”

Paid for by a $25 million donation from the Kendeda Fund, the building is, above all, a demonstration project. It's meant to show that the technology is ready for wider use, especially in a southern environment.

The Kendeda Fund is the private philanthropic arm of Diana Blank, the first wife of Home Depot cofounder Arthur Blank. It also provided $5 million more for programming, to ensure the building gets used to its highest potential.

“Kendeda's goal was not really to build a building,” said the foundation's sustainability advisor, Dennis Creech. “Our goal was to be a catalyst for changing how buildings should be designed.”