Living Building Challenge: The Petal of Place

November 18th, 2020

Dear Readers,

As an architect that desires to design healthy and beautiful spaces for people and their environment, the Living Building Challenge that we have recently come across is truly an exciting idea. As I’m sure you’ve guessed from reading the basics of the challenge, Shelby and I would undoubtedly like to strive for the certification with our own home. To help myself understand the mandatory Imperatives of the 7 Petals, I thought it best to write these blogs as I research. 

The Seven Petals of the Living Building Challenge and their Imperatives.

In order to be Living Building certified, The Seed must meet the seven petals put forth by the International Living Future Institute. The seven petals are: Place, Water, Energy, Health and Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty.1 Each petal is made up of a number of Imperatives. Because the petals and their imperatives deserve decent explanations, and because we have many thoughts,  questions, and challenges that go along with each of them, each petal will be its own blog. So, without further ado, let’s dive right in to the first Petal…2 

The Petal of Place and its Four Imperatives

The Petal of Place

The Petal of Place is characterized by four Imperatives: Ecology of Place, Urban Agriculture, Habitat Exchange and Human-Scaled Living.

For a building to meet the Ecology of Place Imperative, they must protect, encourage, and enhance the habitat they are placed in. They must preserve these environments, cannot use chemicals to maintain their landscapes, and should avoid being located in “pristine greenfield, wilderness, prime farmland or in a floodplain.”3 Before building, the condition of the site must be documented, and after building, the project must demonstrate that it positively contributes to the existing ecology and culturally benefits the community. 

How the Ecology of Place Imperative will impact us and The Seed, with help from Shelby on the Side-lines: Welp, we are essentially building our home, The Seed, in what could potentially be considered a ‘wilderness’ area. With no public roads and probably about a thousand or so acres of woodlands, William and I would personally consider the location of The Seed to be in the wilderness.4 

We will of course document the current condition of the site before we begin to build, as well as after building. We believe that The Seed, once built, could culturally benefit our local community by further introducing sustainable building mindsets. In a place as beautiful as Perry County, where there are more cows and trees than people or cars, there are very few individuals who know what Passive House certification is, let alone the Living Building Challenge. And, quite frankly, I know some of the concepts we want to incorporate into our home are considered to be ‘insane,’ ‘naive,’ and ‘gross’~ composting toilets and recirculating showers, anyone? 😉 

We will be shaking up our local code officials and make even those closest to us scream, “Tree hugging loones!” Which is fine. Really. The point of The Seed, and how it can benefit our local community culturally, is that it is an emblem of advocacy. Advocacy for living in a beautifully wooded county with farm fields and wandering creeks…and still protecting the earth that the home sits upon. If we want our Perry County to stay beautiful…to still have woods to hunt and play in…then we need to reconsider how we build our homes and interact with the land that we all oh so love. 

But, how are we going to positively contribute to the existing ecology? In other words…how are we going to enhance the health of the land we are about to build our home on? Honestly, this part needs some thought. The one current idea we have floating around in our heads: By owning a small piece of woodlands in a rather gigantic forest, we will be in a position to protect and nurture the trees and habitats that are on our land. 

For example, William and I do not want a yard. A yard requires clearing of natural habitats and vegetation, and the planting of non-native grasses. We also want our children to be ultra dexterous, agile, and tough. Having to run around trees and lift their knees as they bound over roots while they play catch, tag, or whatever…will make them like little ninjas. Who needs a guard dog when you have assassin-like wood-dwelling kids? Especially since they probably won’t be able to levitate, they’ll need some sort of super power to make them cool.  

Not having a yard, however, still does not enhance the current health of our land. It just keeps it from being less healthy than what it could be if we did clear it for a yard. Same thing with the thought process of: “Oh, we bought it to protect it from other people who would buy it and cut down trees, make a yard, use pesticides, and have clumsy children.” Us just buying the land to “protect it from other people” does not make the land healthier than what it is now. 

So, again…back to the question…how does building a home in the middle of a beautifully wooded area enhance the health of the forest? We are still thinking about this one (let us know if you have any ideas in the comments below)! We will most certainly get back to you at a later date…next imperative, please!

The Imperative of Urban Agriculture  states that a project must dedicate anywhere from 2 to 20 percent of its area to growing food, or it can grow a smaller percentage of food and provide the community with weekly access to local produce.5 The project must also supply its inhabitants with a specific amount of food in an emergency – 2 weeks’ worth for a residence.6 

The percentage of the area a project must dedicate to growing food is based on its “Transect.” A Transect, simply put, is the type of human population density that exists surrounding your project. The Living Building Challenge lists 6 different Transects and in order of least populated to most populated they are: 

  • Natural Habitat Preserve (basically untouched wilderness),
  • Rural Zone (farm fields and thinner forested areas),
  • Village or Campus Zone (think of a super small town or a college campus),
  • General Urban Zone (a medium to large town or small city),
  • Urban Center Zone (a large city),
  • and Urban Core Zone (downtown of a major city hub).

How the Imperative of Urban Agriculture will impact us and The Seed, with help from Shelby on the Side-lines: Again, with The Seed being in the woods and with us not wanting to clear trees for gardening and sunlight…this imperative will be a tad difficult. The Seed will be about 1500 square feet. We are expecting our area to either be considered a Natural Habitat Preserve or a Rural Zone. If we are located in a Natural Habitat Preserve, we will only need to dedicate 5% (or 75 square feet) of our project area to agriculture. To put that into perspective, that would be a garden bed of at least 7 feet wide by 10 feet long. If we are considered to be a Rural Zone (which is possible because it is a very young forest), we would have to dedicate 20% of our project area (or 300 square feet) to agriculture. That would require a lot of garden beds…and a lot of sunlight. Which is not great if you have a lot of trees. 

However, vertical wall gardens are a thing! And they have a smaller footprint area on the ground in comparison to raised beds or typical gardens. If we were able to incorporate a vertical wall vegetable garden into our home’s design…that would be soooo stinking cool….

The Habitat Exchange Imperative dictates that land away from the site must be given to an approved Land Trust organization, or the Institute’s Living Future Habitat Exchange Program – equal in size to the project’s area, or 1 acre (whichever is greater). In other words, a project must buy and/or sell land to a conservation team which will keep it in it’s pristine, natural condition and protect it from human development.7 

How the Imperative of Habitat Exchange will impact us and The Seed, with help from Shelby on the Side-lines: The Seed’s overall square footage will be about 1500 sq/ft. Since an acre is greater than our project’s area, we would have to buy and sell an additional acre to be donated to a conservation team. From what we understand, we could either physically buy another piece of land, or, we could donate so much money to the International Living Future Institute to put towards them buying and conserving a vast amount of wilderness. William and I would absolutely LOVE to buy more land just to protect it…it is just the buying part and the fact that it requires, you know, real money, that may prove difficult at first. 

Human-Scaled Living requests projects (except single-family residences) to be built at an appropriate scale for the neighborhood. They should provide: opportunities for occupants to connect with the community, storage and facilities to promote bicycling, and electric car charging infrastructure; and minimize impervious parking surfaces to no more than 20% of the project area (percentage dependent upon Transect). Single-occupancy vehicle trips and fossil-fuel powered trips should be reduced by 30% in comparison to the region’s average, or must implement four of the following practices: 

  • enhancing pedestrian routes, 
  • advocating human-powered or public transport, 
  • subsidizing occupants’ transportation, 
  • coordinating carpools, 
  • providing access to subsidized car sharing, hybrid, or EV fleet vehicles, 
  • or surveying of occupants’ fossil-fuel based single-occupant vehicle trips. 

Single family homes must implement two strategies of reducing transportation impact, either through car sharing, public transportation, alternative fuel vehicles, or bicycles.8

How the Human-Scaled Living Imperative will impact us and The Seed, with help from Shelby on the Side-lines: Honestly, this imperative just gives William yet another reason to buy all-electric vehicles. I’m not just talking about Teslas…but electric motorcycles…electric dirt bikes…electric chainsaws…even though you can’t physically transport yourself with an electric chainsaw…it would still be cool! Anywho, since The Seed will be a single family home in the middle of nowhere, we are going to carpool as much as possible until we can afford that electric lifestyle. And since our mailbox and eventual school bus stop will be over a mile down a dirt road, we can restrict ourselves to bicycles for those little trips.

Us. In a place. Not the place. As in the place we are going to build our home…just a place. 

Well, that was the first petal! Only six more to go! Thanks for reading!


William (and Shelby!) Aldrich

1To read a case study of the seven petals incorporated in a Living Building Challenge certified building, please read: Alabama’s Gulf State Park Interpretive Center”

2. A quick note: the standards for the Living Building Challenge have been adapting over time, and I will be writing about the latest iteration, “Living Building Challenge, Version 4.0.” Its bibliographical information: International Living Future Institute. Living Building Challenge, Version 4.0, Seattle, 2019.

3. Living Building Challenge, Version 4.0. Page 30.

4. All of this is based upon the hope that we actually get the piece of land we are currently in the process of trying to purchase! If the purchase goes smoothly, and we do in fact own this beautiful little piece of land, then all of our concerns and ideas are relevant! And you will hear more about this piece of land in a later blog 😉 <3 

5. The percentage is based upon the “Transect” type – there are six of these, each with a different variable of human-population density (natural habitat preserve, rural zone, village or campus zone, general urban zone, urban center zone, or urban core zone).

6. Living Building Challenge, Version 4.0. Page 31. 

7. Living Building Challenge, Version 4.0. Page 32. 

8. Living Building Challenge, Version 4.0. Page 34. 


  1. Lol just more questions! Have you considered a portable greenhouse and would it meet the criteria listed here? I think it would fit your lifestyle as it would be easier to weed (if needed at all), easier to water (could be rigged to be automatic), could be arranged to get & maximize the partial sun you expect to have, and would be portable (like the house itself). Also, I know the “woods” behind our house get improved all the time because it has a lot of road fill that was used in the creation of our neighborhood. As broken bottles, old electronics, and even broken up asphalt come to the surface, I remove, recycle, or repurpose the waste. Also, if your forest was recently farmland, it could still need some reclaiming, so adding compost, farm animals, and native plants could make it so that your living there would benefit the land. Check out the Little Portion Farm for how they are reclaiming commercially farmed land into more sustainably farmed land that grows crops for the homeless in Baltimore. ..and, as always, great job informing & challenging your readers!

    • Hey Aunt Deanna! We love your questions 🙂 <3 A portable greenhouse sounds ingenious! And that would extend our growing season! William and I will have to explore that idea further…
      Oh my goodness…the Little Portion Farm is so neat! I think William and I are going to have to explore them a little more as well. Maybe a family visit in the future!

  2. This gets more interesting every time! I also like the idea of a greenhouse. I have one, I wanted it to work in ,start plants etc. Well Bill had other ideas, that I said would not work, From that, I got the pity party, you don’t trust me, you think I am stupid, etc. etc. Soooo, I let him do it his way. About $500 in supplies, lots of work, it failed. I felt bad but he remembered that he actually called himself stupid and really didn’t trust his own idea. LOL LOL. But done right, it will workm out well!

    • Hahaha, if we decide to build a green house, we will have to consult you guys on what works and what doesn’t! We could use his mistakes to help us meet our petal of place!

  3. The intent of the Place Petal is to realign how people understand and relate to the natural environment that sustains us. The human built environment must reconnect with the deep story of place and the unique characteristics found in every community so that story can be honored, protected and enhanced. The Place Petal clearly articulates where it is acceptable for people to build, how to protect and restore a place once it has been developed, and how to encourage the creation of communities that are once again based on the pedestrian rather than the automobile. In turn, these communities need to be supported by a web of local and regional agriculture, since no truly sustainable community can rely on globally sourced food production.

    • All true and very well said! William and I both grew up living in the woods. The Petal of Place is providing us both with the challenge and opportunity to more thoroughly get to know the native flora and fauna that has surrounded us since childhood. It is funny (and a little sad) how you can grow up in a place, and never really know the names of all the living things surrounding you. Now we are learning their names, as well as how to protect and cultivate their well-being!

  4. This was a great article!You really did break down that first petal well by giving real examples.

    • Hello, Maimba! Thank you for your kind words, and thank you so much for reading! 🙂 The Petal of Place is turning out to be quite the challenge, but also an incredible learning opportunity.


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