The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center is the first building in the U.S. to get a permit to make potable water from rainwater. That is no small accomplishment. To do it, the building had to become a public waterworks, says Greg Mella, the principal in charge of the $8-million environmental education building for SmithGroupJJR. 
The rainwater treatment system is just one of many super-sustainable systems in the 10,520-sq-ft building, which achieved LEED Platinum certification last summer. Brock also is on course to achieve, soon after March 31, Living Building certification from the Living Building Challenge (LBC). 
Locating the center on an ecologically sensitive site allowed the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to implement its bay advocacy, restoration and education efforts in one location but also necessitated preserving and protecting the setting. A goal was to showcase energy, water and waste treatment technologies to produce a building that operates without any negative environmental impact.
The building form and its siting incorporate passive solar principles to maximize daylight. The roof is built to collect rainwater for treatment.
The center is one of about 150 buildings worldwide pursuing Living Building status. The rigorous green building program, administered by the International Living Future Institute, requires a year of successful post-occupancy performance for certification. 
For designation as a Living Building, the environmental center has to comply with seven strict performance areas, called “petals”: site, energy, water, health, materials, equity and beauty.
The energy petal has the imperative of net-zero annual energy use, which means the building must produce as much energy as it uses in a year. Since April 1, Brock, which was completed in November 2014, has produced 85% more power than it has consumed, says Mella. 
For the water petal, the building must be net zero and create an ecological water flow. Attaining the water petal was the most challenging of all seven because it required state-agency approvals. To get the permit, “it’s important to start meeting with authorities early in design,” says Mella.
To meet the materials petal, the team had to avoid materials and products that contain harmful chemicals, such as polyvinyl chloride, formaldehyde and halogenated flame-retardants. This required intense collaboration of the design and construction teams early in design.
The Brock team is openly sharing its “substantial, exhaustively researched” materials database, which meets the demands of the LBC, says the architect. The transparency is part of the Brock team’s commitment to the production of healthier and safer buildings everywhere.
To meet LBC goals, the project also had to contribute to the regional economy. The team followed an extensive list of restrictions on source locations of materials and services, based on distance from the project site.
Toward its green imperative, the team selected as many salvaged materials as possible. Items—such as wood seats reused for trim—were merely cut to length and sealed rather than completely re-milled. Other reused material includes wood flooring from a school gym and champagne corks repurposed as pull knobs.
To achieve the building’s deeply sustainable features while maintaining the budget and the schedule, the owner, architect, contractor and subcontractors had to work in unison, says Hourigan. A Living Building project requires increased teamwide cooperation and communication. 

Brock Environmental Center

Virginia Beach, Va.region Mid-Atlantic

Project Team

Owner Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Owner’s Representative Skanska USA

Architect/MEP Engineer SmithGroupJJR

General Contractor Hourigan Construction

Structural Engineer A+F Engineers

Civil Engineers WPL and Kimley-Horn & Associates

Landscape Architect WPL

Concrete Bayside Concrete

Mechanical Warwick Plumbing & Heating

Electrical IES Commercial

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