What will each of us do differently, starting right here, right now?

The following remarks were delivered by Kendeda’s executive director Dena Kimball at the dedication of the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design on October 24, 2019.

Thank you. My name is Dena Kimball and I am the executive director of the Kendeda Fund.  On behalf of my mother, Diana Blank, I want to start by thanking our partners at Georgia Tech for everything you have done to bring us to this moment – this incredible moment – that is the official opening of the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design.

Today is truly a high point in a quarter century of Kendeda’s work. I feel so grateful to represent the entire Kendeda team and to stand with each and every one of you.

I want to thank and recognize former Georgia Tech presidents Wayne Clough and Bud Peterson, both of whom are here today, and without whose vision Tech would not be the sustainability leader it is today. And President Cabrera, though you’ve only recently assumed your post, I know from the time we’ve spent together already that you are deeply aware how hard the Georgia Tech community worked to bring this building to life.

Celebratory partners. Kendeda’s founder after the dedication ceremony with Georgia Tech presidents, past and present (From left, Bud Peterson, Diana Blank, and Angel Cabrera)

Tech staff deserving recognition today are far too numerous to mention by name. I do, however, want to give a special shout out to Georgia Tech’s Office of Facilities Management – including the Design & Construction, Operations & Maintenance, and Environmental Health & Safety teams. We are grateful to the School of Architecture, the office of Capital Planning and Space Management, a

nd Tech’s communications and project teams for all they’ve done to guide this journey with commitment, grace and flexibility. And we would also like to extend deep gratitude to Lord Aeck Sargent, Miller Hull, and Skanska – the technical experts whose passion and creativity helped make Kendeda’s vision a reality.

It was four years ago when Kendeda and Georgia Tech first declared our intentions to create a living building on campus. From day one, we shared an audacious ambition to try something once unimaginable at this scale in the hot, humid Southeast. And it was just two years ago when we all gathered on this spot, in what had been a nondescript parking lot, to break ground.

Looking back, that timeline seems crazy…and perhaps it was. But here we are, friends. It’s been just four years since we first planted the seed, and look what has blossomed. Truly amazing! Today we should cherish our four-year journey and celebrate how far we’ve come. But let’s all agree that today is not the destination. Not even close.

The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA

What makes living buildings unique is more – far, far more – than the inclusive design process. It’s more than the focus on values like equity, beauty or health. It’s bigger than

the construction materials used (or not used), or the commitment to being net positive for energy and water. What makes a living building transformational is, in my view, something very different.

It’s what happens once the construction tools are put away and the learning tools come out.  It’s about how faculty (like Kim Cobb) will use the space to help students think more expansively about the relationship between the built environment and a warming climate. It’s about how campus planners (here at Tech and other universities across the region) will think in new ways about integrated design or campus energy use. It’s about helping diverse communities (across and beyond this campus) feel welcomed and included in the space.

Creating this structure was incredibly difficult. Over four years, there were hundreds of thousands of complex decisions made by hundreds of smart, dedicated people. I don’t mean to short change that feat in any way. But today’s dedication, the speeches and poems and tree plantings, are really just a marker for the thousands of decisions that are still to come.

This is the challenge ahead of us all:

  • How will we inhabit this gorgeous space for maximum return on our collective investment?
  • How will each of us adjust our daily choices and behaviors to ensure the building meets the requirements for living building certification?
  • How will we translate those changes to the rest of our daily lives when we leave the walls of this building and return home?
  • What will each of us do differently…starting right here, right now?

The Kendeda Fund has been supporting environmental programs for nearly a quarter century. The commitment to sustainability that this building embodies has been something my mom has cultivated and nurtured since childhood. As much as anyone I know, Diana values the importance of place and how those places shape our understanding of the world around us.

In that spirit, I’ll leave you with something my mom recently wrote. We published it this week on our Living Building Chronicle blog, so you can find more there. But here’s what she said:

“It is true that one 47,000-square-foot building won’t materially change the environmental and social impact of buildings in the Southeast or even on a single campus. But one building can serve as an impetus for new ways of approaching the world we want to live in.

“I hope the Kendeda Building will grow into a bridge between the small, direct experiences that balance humans and nature, and the huge environmental problems that many Georgia Tech students may play a key role in solving. I hope that it imprints something about that balance on their souls. And I hope when they graduate and become leaders in architecture and engineering, in business and public policy, in community development and philanthropy, that they will take the lessons learned at Tech and use them to change the world.”

Thank you so much.