Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit the first Living Building Challenge (LBC) project in Houston, TX, and that is not its most compelling distinction. The 1,120 square foot stand-alone art building at the Monarch School is maximizing the use of reclaimed materials, and minimizing the use of hazardous “red list” substances. As I spoke with the design and construction team, I was struck by their sense of reverence for the contribution they were making to this campus, which serves 127 students with autism, attention deficit disorder and other neurological challenges. The team is well aware that the National Institutes of Health have said that endocrine-disrupting chemicals, one of the hazards targeted by the LBC red list “may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse… neurological, and immune effects.”
As I walked across the campus past classroom after classroom of engaged students, I felt the reverence, too. Everywhere I looked, I saw kids fully involved in a variety of activities, some with intently focused teachers, and others with fellow students. The setting was serene, but with a palpable sense of mission: dedication, love, and hard work. It felt like a sacred space.
I’ve never felt a greater sense gratitude for the work of all the scientists, advocates, visionaries and builders working to provide the healthiest possible environment for our children.
Dr. Deborah Hall, Head of School speaks glowingly of the LBC project. While noting the research on chemical links to neurological impacts is not conclusive, she is supportive of the effort to decrease the chemical exposures on children with neurological differences, because it makes it more likely that they can seize opportunities to positively impact their families, their communities, and the world. Of the Living Building, she says: “Our kids are going to have complete ownership over the operations. They will control the energy use in the building. They will be serving as tour guides. They will be the teachers to the larger community about the building and about sustainability.”
The project is going to be completed early next year and celebrated at Gulf Coast Green 2014, whose theme is Teaching Buildings - Best In Class Green. It’s the green building event I’m most looking forward to. With gratitude for sharing this inspiring experience with me, congratulations to the Monarch School and the Monarch project team: Architend architects, GreenNexus consulting and Tend Building.
Photo: Jamie Lawson, Shannon Bryant, Shelly Pottorf, and C. Jules with student intern at the Monarch School Living Building site.