50th Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Shan Arora

The 50th Annual Meeting includes some new items on the agenda, including a series of intimate Salon Dinners on Thursday night that will allow small groups of attendees to explore key issues and converse with thought leaders at unique locations throughout Atlanta.

One of those venues, the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design, is meant to inspire change across the entire Southeast. Built to the world’s most rigorous sustainable design and performance standard for buildings, it will harvest more energy than it uses on site through renewable sources and collect, treat and reuse more water than it needs on an annual basis.

The building, located on the Georgia Tech campus, opened in September, marking a significant achievement for Shan Arora, the building’s inaugural director. In a recent article reflecting on the building’s opening, Arora focused on how it can promote health and happiness.

“The first thing visitors typically notice is the amount of wood -- a natural material known to have a calming effect on humans. Or else it’s the daylight and the view of trees through the very windows that are letting the light in,” he wrote. “For most people, it’s only a matter of time before a relaxed smile spreads across their face.”

Shortly after he assumed his current role, Arora said the partners behind the project, Georgia Tech and The Kendeda Fund – an SECF member – said the construction of the building was only step one of an ongoing process.

“We want this entire project to be a change agent,” he said in an interview. “We want it to change the way people think about the built environment in the Southeast.”

Now that the building is open, Arora is focused on ensuring it meets the high sustainability goals needed to match the Living Building Challenge standard.

“For the bulk of this year, I’ve been preparing for the building’s completion and arranging events that will make it a hub for sustainability on campus and Atlanta,” he wrote. “Smoking is verboten. Indoor air quality must be tested. Exhaust systems must be installed in key locations. And so on.”

The activities taking place in the building will reflect this approach to sustainability. Among other academic and research programs, it will house the university’s Office of Campus Sustainability, as well as its Global Change Program, which focuses on developing leaders to pursue solutions to ecological challenges.

“Georgia Tech already has a lot of programs that relate to the goal of changing our region’s approach to the built environment,” Arora said. “The building’s programs should supplement existing programs and research and, where we find a niche that needs to be filled, we will consider the type of programming that needs to be developed.”

Writing about the building’s effect on health and happiness, Arora notes that the impact of green architecture, design and construction is only starting to be understood.

“There are other dimensions of health and happiness beginning to be measured, such as the impact of green building features on the cognitive function of occupants,” he wrote. “A lot of these dimensions -- perhaps the bulk of them -- remain difficult to pin down. How can I quantify the pleasure I find in knowing that bird-safe glass will reduce avian deaths around the building? For that matter, how does one account for the ‘happiness’ of the birds that won’t be maimed or killed by flying into windows?”

These questions aside, it’s already clear the building provides many things that no one disputes promote health and happiness.

“This building provides ample natural light. It’s open and inviting. The air quality is likely to support the health of its occupants. It’s all of these things and more,” Arora wrote. “The sum is greater than the parts because it’s also just a happy place to be.”


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