An incredible new building in Virginia is raising the bar for sustainable architecture worldwide. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center, designed by SmithGroupJJR, just achieved the world’s toughest green building standard, the Living Building Challenge, an accolade only awarded to 10 other such “ultra-sustainable” structures in the world. The net-zero education building not only generates nearly twice as much energy than it needs, but has also become the first commercial building in the U.S. permitted to “drink” its harvested rainwater.
Located on the banks of the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach, the 10,500-square-foot Brock Environmental Center was created to engage and educate the public about the environment and ways they can help save the Chesapeake Bay from further environmental degradation. Per the requirements of the Living Building Challenge, the building produces more energy than it uses over the course of 12 consecutive months using clean energy technologies, such as solar panels, residential wind turbines, and geothermal wells. The Brock Center also meets a myriad of other stringent criteria for water use, location, health, materials, equity, and beauty.
Elevated 14 feet above sea level to cope with flooding and reinforced to withstand 120-mile-per-hour hurricane winds, the energy-efficient Brock Center produces around 83 percent more energy than it uses, as well as 80 percent less energy and 90 percent less water than a typical building of its size. Its 168 rooftop solar panels generate 60 percent of the building’s energy needs, while two 10-kilowatt wind turbines produce the remaining 40 percent. The building’s utility bill is only $17.19 per month—the minimum fee to keep the building tied to the grid—and the remaining energy is returned to the Dominion Virginia Power grid, which will issue a refund check back to the center.
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“The Brock Center’s performance pushed the boundaries on what is possible. Regenerative, net-positive design is more than an aspiration, it has been achieved,” said SmithGroupJJR project manager and design architect Greg Mella, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C. Thanks to an advanced drinking water system, the Brock Center turns its harvested rainwater into potable water used for drinking and hand-washing. Gray water is reused as irrigation, while waterless, composting toilets are used in the bathrooms. A Living Building Challenge Dashboard offers a real-time gauge of the building’s energy and water use, as well as energy generation.
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The above-mentioned elements are only a handful of the Brock Environmental Center’s best eco-friendly features. The education center, which opened in January 2015, is open to the public for tours and also serves as the hub for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Hampton Road office, with space for an 80-seat conference room, meeting rooms, and exhibit display areas.
Images via SmithGroupJJR