“What if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place?”
By Emily French
That is the question posed by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) upon visiting the website for its Living Building Challenge (LBC), the world’s most stringent green building rating system. It is the ultimate green building standard that can be applied to any building type around the world, allowing them to move beyond merely being “less bad” for the environment and to instead give more than they take. The goal is to create Living Buildings that incorporate regenerative design solutions that actually improve the local environment rather than simply reducing harm.
As the ILFI explains, “living buildings” are regenerative buildings that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community. They are self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site while creating a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.
HMTX Industries CEO Harlan Stone is no stranger to the Institute and its Living Future mission across many facets of the built environment. In fact, the ILFI is responsible for creating the Declare label, of which the HMTX family of companies has issued over 30, and the JUST social justice label, (of which HMTX is the first flooring manufacturer in the world to obtain JUST℠ 2.0), and which aids organizations in optimizing policies and practices that improve social equity and enhance employee engagement. HMTX embarked on this journey following the achievement of the JUST 1.0 social justice label in 2018 for its Chinese factory partners, Elegant Home Tech-Co., Ltd. and Yihua Rundong New Material Co., Ltd.— a first for any company in China (and all of Asia).
The ILFI is also the creator of the Living Product Challenge (LPC). Teknoflor, a focused health care and institutional brand under the HMTX umbrella, introduced a chlorine-free resilient sheet flooring option made with a material botanically-derived from castor seed oil and natural minerals called Naturescapes HPD™ that became the first resilient flooring product to achieve Petal Certification under the auspices of the LPC.
Given all of this, it should come as no surprise that Stone approached Jason McLennan, creator of the LBC and one of the world’s most influential individuals in the field of architecture and the green building movement, to discuss his vision for the HMTX World Headquarters as a new Living Building under the LBC standard. Addressing the growing issue of climate change and its continued commitment to sustainability, the 24,000 square-foot project is on track to become the greenest building in the state of Connecticut, with completion slated for 2022. It will be the first Living Building Challenge Petal-Certified project in Connecticut, and the first project ever in Norwalk to pursue the Living Building Challenge.
“This has been running around my head for a long time,” said Stone, “and it has become clear that we have a digital transformation coming to our industry. I wanted to develop this project because we now have an opportunity to engage more deeply with our customers. We decided to use the LBC standard because it is the deepest reaching of all the standards in terms of engagement with the community and the natural environment.”
According to Stone, “Our new HMTX headquarters is designed to represent the core values on which our company was built and has grown. What I like to refer to as our House Up On The Hill will merge nature and sustainability with innovation and collaboration. It will provide a unique space for artists, engineers, developers and architects, as well as creative and disruptive thinkers, to exchange ideas and thoughts in this modern-day salon.”
The building will be built on a “dense and rocky site”, as McLennan Design Architect Brad Benke puts it. “And to honor that landscape while also creating an experience that users and occupants can enjoy is something I am proud of.”
Among the structure’s unique features, it is designed to sit above the ground in an effort to preserve as much of the existing landscape as possible. Only two portions of the building touch the ground, the stair towers and elevator vestibules on the north and south. A stormwater runoff will travel to a series of rain gardens where it will infiltrate into the underlying soil, providing water quality treatment through filtration and groundwater recharge.
Other features include a water wall near the entrance that will help mask the sound of the highway behind the building, as well as a mural and artful staircase, and an art-filled hallway leading to a courtyard with a sanctuary-like aesthetic. McLennan notes that the design will evoke a sense of arrival and placemaking when one enters each space.
Benke explained the building’s inner workings include “the use of ultra-efficient mechanical systems and low operating energy use. Over 100 percent of the building’s energy use will be provided onsite through solar. The plan is to harvest rainwater to be reused in some of the plumbing fixtures. It also uses only the healthiest nontoxic materials available by following ILFI’s red-list imperatives.”
Jason McLennan said of the project, “HMTX World Headquarters is going to be an incredible example of a living building project, one that generates all the energy that it needs, is completely decarbonized and does not use fossil fuels. It will capture water off its roof and light the building with daylight, all while being comprised of healthy materials. It will provide beautiful views of nature and is incredibly biophilic. Our team really worked hard to knit and nest all of these issues together in a building that is highly functional and practical.”
The multipurpose building will feature office space to the north, conference rooms, a Research and Design area similar to an artist’s studio, as well as three apartments for visiting artists, engineers, or customers. A large library space of art and artifacts will be located on the southern end of the building, and it will be a center for innovation and digital printing. “It is designed to inspire the next evolution in the flooring industry, textures, color and patterns. This is a working building as well as a thinking building,” added McLennan.
“Our new headquarters was an idea that was always about providing space to think,” said Stone. “Buildings are really important, both for the creative process and for how you go about your job every day.”
The construction of the building under LBC will mean that every material is scrutinized for its ingredients and where they come from. Therefore, it only makes sense that HMTX World Headquarters will use Teknoflor Naturescapes HPD, a Living Product Challenge (LPC) Petal-certified resilient sheet flooring made partially from castor seed oil and natural minerals, and the soon to be certified Nature’s Tile and Plank flooring similar to Naturescapes in a plank format.
The Living Product Challenge is a framework for manufacturers to create products that are healthy, inspirational and give back to the environment. It is the most advanced sustainability standard for products and can help companies make greater strides, whether they are at the beginning or far along in their sustainability journey.
Stone hopes this building will allow us to pause to look at things. He hopes it will allow our minds to wander and become inspired. “It will be wonderful for our creative processes and wonderful for human health and mental wellbeing.”
Learn more about the Living Building Challenge here.
Learn more about the Living Product Challenge here.
Learn more about the International Living Future Institute here.